In a time when we rely on “Google” to answer almost any and all questions that come up on a given day, more people are turning to the internet for medical advice.
As a parent I am a member of various blogs and websites so I often come across the use of internet and social media platforms as a first go-to for other parents seeking such advice. For example, I often read blog posts on the safety of various medications, skin products, sleep surfaces, infant feeding advice, advice on vaccines, etc. People are using the internet to research symptoms prior to coming to the doctors' office or will self-diagnose and not see their doctor at all. The amount of knowledge at our fingertips is both amazing and daunting. On the one hand, the internet and social media bring people with similar illnesses together and can offer meaningful support. On the other hand, there are many sources of false information that can not only confuse parents and patients, but can also be harmful.
As a parent and a pediatrician I appreciate how the availability of this information has transformed the doctor-patient relationship. I think it helps foster excellent discussions and new ways to approach illness in children. As a doctor, I also feel it is part of my job to help guide patients to the most accurate websites rather than leaving them to feel overwhelmed. I hope the following pointers can help patients navigate the seemingly endless amount of information and advice available online.
- ACCURACY - Does the website use reliable research?
- Check several sources for the same information; are the results the same? You can do this by searching for your topic followed by the words "science" or "debunk" to see if the subject has been researched further. If the website lists references you can use those for further information.
- Websites with reference material within the site are usually more accurate and reliable.
- AUTHORITY - What are the credentials of the authors?
- Look to be sure the website is written by doctors, nurses or others with a direct role in the health field.
- In general, websites that end in .org, .gov, or .edu are usually most reliable for health information.
- Interpret headlines with caution - one study may not mean much on its own and you are better off looking into official guidelines and statements from reputable organizations.
- BIAS - Who pays for the website?
- If a company pays for the website they may have control over the way information is portrayed.
- Websites with less advertisements tend to be less biased or have fewer conflicts of interest.
- IS IT CURRENT? - When was the website last updated?
- Remember that medical research never stops, make sure information is not older than 3 years old.
- PERSONAL ACCOUNTS - Be wary!
- In terms of blogs and social media platforms, please remember that just because one product or situation was right for one person/family, it does not make it the best option for you or your family.
- Call your doctor to discuss the topics you may be researching online and through social media.
- No question is "stupid" and we welcome all questions and concerns about your child's health. If we do not know the answer we will surely try to find out and provide you with the most evidence and experienced based answer that we can.
- If you feel you have found your answer online feel free to run it by us for our opinion as well. That is why we are here!
Specifically for pediatrics, the websites I like most for general information are:
Our PAGS website has a wealth of information. There is a section to the right with links to over 100 articles that you can search based on your child's symptoms. This same section has medication dosage guidelines. There is resourse section with many more websites for many common pediatric physical and mental health concerns.
- Angela Jacques, M.D.