Don't Use Dr. Google To Diagnose Your Child

by Julie Scagell
Originally Published: 
Image via Shutterstock

But if they don’t want parents to look up symptoms, why did someone invent Google in the first place?

Most parents are guilty of being an “armchair doctor” at some point in our children’s’ life. I mean, what is Google good for if not to compare the rash on your kid’s leg to the thousands of rash images online (and looking up videos of cats knocking shit off counters)? But according to a new study, parents who use search engines to try and diagnose what is wrong with their child might be doing more harm than good.

A new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that Googling your child’s symptoms can lead to both an uncertainty between the parent and a doctor and a possible late diagnosis. According to the study, going online when your child is sick not only reduces a parents’ belief in trained medical professionals but can also cause a delay in treatment if parents don’t then trust their doctor’s diagnosis because of what they read online.

The researchers recruited 1,385 parents who had at least one child under the age of 18. Participants were presented with the description of a child who had “a rash and worsening fever for three days” and were then divided into two groups. The first group received a screen shot of the internet information listing the symptoms of scarlet fever. The second group was shown a screen shot listing symptoms of Kawasaki disease — A rare condition where blood vessels in the body become inflamed and treatment, usually consisting of intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), is administered in a hospital.

A third control group was also used. This group received no internet screen shots.

Participants were then told that a doctor had diagnosed the child with scarlet fever. In the first group (who saw the scarlet fever symptoms) 90.5 per cent trusted the doctor’s report but as you can imagine only 61.3 per cent of participants who viewed the symptoms of Kawasaki disease said they trusted the doctor’s opinion, because omg that kid has Kawasaki disease, dammit, now someone call an ambulance.

In the control group (otherwise known as 1975) 81 percent trusted the doctor’s diagnosis.

Lead author of the study, Ruth Milanaik, said while the internet brings a wealth of information to parents, the study’s findings suggest that “internet-driven interpretation of symptoms” can impact the patient-doctor relationship, Science Daily reports.

We agree that the internet makes it easier for parents to find information and potentially misdiagnose or delay treatment. But this has been going on long before Google was invented. I remember my grandma (who used to watch me after school) sitting with these massive medical books in her tiny lap, pouring through a myriad symptoms. She’d finally land on a diagnosis, slam the book closed and pronounce that my ear ache was, in fact, rabies. She was ahead of her time.

“The internet is a powerful information tool but it is limited by its inability to reason and think,” Milanaik said. “These computer-generated diagnoses may mislead patients or parents and cause them to question their doctors’ medical abilities and seek a second opinion, thereby delaying treatment.”

She advised that parents who have doubts should “absolutely” continue to seek a second opinion but “shouldn’t be afraid to discuss the result of internet information with the physician.” Information is power and fortunately (or unfortunately in some cases) there is a wealth of it available at our fingertips.

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