Help parents search Dr Google about their child’s health, researcher urges doctors

Neelima Choahan

12/06/2018 2:28:09 PM

Most parents search for medical information about their child’s health online, but only around half find out if an information source is reliable, according to an Australian researcher.

The research found that more than 60% of parents had looked up information before seeing the doctor, and 95% searched following their visit.
The research found that more than 60% of parents had looked up information before seeing the doctor, and 95% searched following their visit.

Doctors should assume most parents have searched online for information about their child health’s and should remain open to discussing the findings with them in order to foster trust, a children’s health researcher says.
Dr Karen Scott, Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney, Children’s Hospital at Westmead Clinical School, conducted research into determining parents’ patterns of behaviour when searching for online information on their child’s health.
‘We were just trying to get a contemporary understanding of whether parents search online for information on their children’s health and, if so, we wanted to find out about how they search, when they search in relation to visiting their doctor, why they search, what they did with the information they found,’ Dr Scott told newsGP.
‘And, also, whether they needed help with searching and, importantly, appraising the information they found.’
Dr Scott said the study replicated 2006 research and its aim was to find out the impact, in particular, of smart phones on parents’ research habits. She said the research questionnaire only referred to the ‘child’s doctor’, and did not distinguish whether the parent had seen a paediatrician or a GP.
‘We found that almost all parents searched online for information on their child’s health,’ Dr Scott said.
‘The previous study found that 64% of parents reported to have searched, and we found 90% had searched [in the recent study]. These were parents of inpatients and outpatients at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead.’
Dr Scott said more than 60% of the respondents had looked up information before seeing the doctor, but 95% searched after the visit. Only 56% of parents told the doctor that they had searched for information, but 73% used the information to ask the questions.
The research also found that parents were largely unsure of whether the health information they found was trustworthy and that they would like guidance on searching and assessing the reliability of what they found.
‘We asked why they searched and, in terms of the after [the visit], it wasn’t necessarily that they didn’t trust the doctor,’ Dr Scott said. ‘It was really that they wanted to know more about the condition.
‘In terms of … why they search … before visiting the doctor, the most common one was to prepare questions to ask the child’s doctors, closely followed by just to find out more about it, and also a large number was to decide whether they should take their child to the doctor.’
Dr Scott said the research showed that doctors should assume that parents have looked up information before coming to see them or they have gone home and looked up information after the visit.
She said another yet-to-be-published study showed that parents were more inclined to follow the treatment advice if it concurred with what they found online.
‘I think it is important for the doctors to try and open up the conversation with the parents,’ Dr Scott said.
‘Most parents are not trained to verify the information, they are not trained to search in trustworthy sources or sites, so it is important that the doctor knows what the parents found and so they can openly say, “That’s a good piece of information” or “That’s a not a very trustworthy piece of information”.
‘Because you don’t want a mismatch between what the doctor says and what the online information or the parents forum says, because that’s when there is a potential that the treatment won’t be adhered to.’
Dr Scott said doctors can recommend verified websites to parents where they can access more information.
‘Parents are anxious and they are concerned about the information often because they don’t necessarily understand it. Some information is for health professionals and it is written in a very technical language,’ she said.
‘On the other hand, there is information written for consumers, [but] the parents don’t know if it is reliable.’
Dr Scott said another yet-to-be-published research showed the ability to research online about their children’s health can affect the doctor–patient relationship.
‘If the doctor is supportive and can give a few pointers … it just means the parent has got more trust. That relationship becomes a cooperative relationship,’ she said.
Dr Nathan Pinskier, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – eHealth and Practice Services, said patients want to be able to access credible and current healthcare advice about their current management and be able to discuss this information with their healthcare providers.
‘This isn’t about, “I am the expert and you will defer to my advice”. This is about building upon the knowledge base,’ Dr Pinskier told newsGP.
‘The role of GPs has changed from being an absolute expert to someone who assists and guides through the decisions and choices they have to make.
‘What the patient wants is best care and what we want is to give best care.’

childrens-hospital-westmead-clinical-school dr-google Karen-scott Nathan-pinskier university-of-sydney

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