Every parent is guilty of turning to Google to help answer those questions we’re pretty certain we should know the answer to; how many hours on the iPad is too many hours, or what happens if my child puts Sudocrem up their nose?
But now experts are warning that parents should not be using internet search engines to diagnose their children when they fall ill, as it has been shown to reduce trust in trained medical professionals.
The study from the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that online information can not only influence whether parents trust a diagnosis given by their doctor, but can also lead to delays in treatment.
Lead author Ruth Milanaik, associate professor, said: “The internet is a powerful information tool, but it is limited by its inability to reason and think.
“Simply entering a collection of symptoms in a search engine may not reflect the actual medical situation at hand. 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.”
Researchers recruited 1,374 parents for the trial, who were presented with a scenario where a child had a rash and a worsening fever, which had been present for the past three days.
The first group were then presented with screen shots of online diagnosis that described symptoms of Scarlet fever, and Strep throat, a serious disease that if left untreated can lead to rheumatic fever, and heart damage.
A second group were given similar screen shots but detailing symptoms of Kawasaki disease, a condition in which blood vessels become inflamed. Prompt treatment is required to avoid life-threatening complications such as aneurisms.
A third set of parents, received no screen shots at all.
They were then all told that the doctor had made a diagnosis of scarlet fever, and in the control group, where they had not seen any screen shots, 81% of parents trusted the conclusion that had been reached.
However, only 61.3% of participants who had viewed the Kawasaki disease information, reported trusting the doctor’s conclusion.
And 64.2% of the parents in the second group said they would be seeking a second opinion before they were satisfied with the outcome.
Milanaik said: “Parents who still have doubts should absolutely seek a second opinion…but they shouldn’t be afraid to discuss the result of internet information with the physician.”