You find a suspicious-looking mole on your shoulder. You have a pain in your left side that won’t go away. Your young daughter has a funny-sounding cough that’s hung on for a week. Where do you turn for help?

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t call the doctor right away. These days, more and more people are trusting the world’s most complete and authoritative source for health information:

Google.

That’s right. The go-to resource for info about what ails you is the same resource you consult when you’re looking for a new refrigerator, or want to know what you can make with those parsnips sitting in your vegetable drawer.

It’s hardly a new phenomenon. Health issues continue to be among the most-queried topics on Internet search engines. It’s difficult–maybe impossible–to resist the temptation to diagnose yourself when there’s all that information at your fingertips. If you’re not feeling well, you google your symptoms to see if they might be signs of something serious. We all do this.

So why do so many healthcare marketers still want to force people into their health information meat grinders?

The pitch goes something like this: “People want health information, right? And we have lots of health information. So let’s entice people to come to our website and tell us about themselves and register for their own personalized array of health information. And then, because we know their sex and their age and where they live and whether or not they have kids, we can push out all sorts of ancillary health promotions to them.”

In other words, let’s a) try to change the method of finding health information that’s been working perfectly well for millions of people around the world for a decade; and b) pretend we have their good health at heart, when we really just want to sell them stuff.

When are marketers–not just healthcare marketers, but all marketers–going to learn that, here in the Internet Age, you can’t force people to do anything? Any┬átime you make people register before you give them information, you throw up a barrier to your own success. People want their information to be free, and they want it now–

–and they don’t care where they get it. If the source appears to be authoritative and qualified, it doesn’t matter if the information comes from WebMD, the doctor across the street, or some dude in Nebraska who had the same thing and decided to write about it.

So what’s a smart healthcare marketer to do?

Create compelling branded content. Worry over the SEO. Use social media and other promotions to attract people to your compelling branded content. Make sure that when people come to consume your content, they have the opportunity to find out more about you and connect with your services. Suggest resources. Treat them with respect and understand that, on the Internet, they–not you–are in charge.

But, for goodness’ sake, stop trying to push them through your health information meat grinder. They’re not beef. They’re people.