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My Love/Hate Relationship With Dr. Google: Searching For Quality Medical Information Online

Personally, I love the internet!  I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a frequent Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram “junkie”…and, that I shamelessly “Google” a variety of unfamiliar topics, personal hobbies and activities, upcoming events, etc.  The ability to “network” with friends and family members and conveniently access unlimited information within seconds is simply amazing and, dare I say it, addicting! However, from a professional standpoint, I have more of a love/hate relationship with the internet…and, typically, my main source of contention is with “Dr. Google.” Although I’m quite appreciative of the fact that parents and patients have more access to medical information, I also, worry about the validity and quality of the medical information they’re reading and how it may be shaping their service and medical expectations. When it comes to medical information, parents can find thousands of websites offering medical diagnoses, workup recommendations, treatment options, and prognosis/long-term effects.  Unfortunately, much of this information is unregulated, and according to a recently published study in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics1, the overall quality of information on health websites is quite poor.  The authors found that non-profit and academic websites offer the most reliable pediatric health information, and commercial-sponsored and physician-run websites, the least.  For many, sifting through the numerous health websites and determining which of them has high- versus low-quality, medical information can be quite difficult.  Some informative, pediatric health websites that I would recommend for parents and patients include: Although broad, illness and injury-related information may be helpful in understanding a child’s diagnosis, parents should never use internet-searched medical information to replace a medical professional’s evaluation and management.  Commonly, parental expectations regarding their child’s diagnostic workup and treatment plans are shaped by what they’ve read online.  Because unmet expectations and unvoiced concerns and worries can lead to multiple emergency center/clinic visits for the same illness or injury and overall dissatisfaction with their child’s medical care, parents should always let their healthcare providers know of their internet activity/research and medical expectations for the visit.  Knowing this knowledge can help the physician address all of the parents’ questions and concerns, while also ensuring that the researched, medical information is accurate and evidence-based! Winship B, Grisell M, Yang CB, Chen RX, Bauer AS. The quality of pediatric orthopaedic information on the internet. J Pediatr Orthop. 2014 Jun;34(4):474-7
Author
Dr. Katherine Leaming-Van Zandt, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Specialist