Internet health information can reduce parents' trust in doctors' diagnoses
PAS Meeting Updates
SAN FRANCISCO – New research being presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies
Meeting suggests online health information can influence whether parents trust a diagnosis
made by their child’s doctor, potentially leading to delayed treatment.
Using the Mechanical Turk online research platform, researchers recruited 1,374 parent
participants who were presented with a vignette of a child who “has had a rash and
worsening fever for 3 days.” The participants, who averaged 34 years of age and had
at least one child under age 18, were then divided into groups.
In the first group, participants received screen shots of internet information describing
some symptoms of scarlet fever, an infectious disease linked to Strep throat that
causes rash and fever. Unless treated with antibiotics, scarlet fever can develop
into rheumatic fever and, in some cases, lead to heart damage.
The second group of participants received screen shots listing select symptoms of
Kawasaki disease, a condition in which blood vessels throughout the body become inflamed.
It also is accompanied by fever and rash. Prompt treatment with anti-inflammatory
drugs is needed to help prevent life-threatening complications such as aneurisms.
A third set of parents, the control group, received no internet screen shots. All
participants then read that the doctor had diagnosed the child with scarlet fever.
Compared to the control group, in which 81.0% of parents reported trusting the physician,
90.5% of parents who had received scarlet fever symptom screen shots reported trusting
the physician. Furthermore, fewer parents in the scarlet fever cohort answered that
they were likely to seek a second opinion (21.4%), compared to the control group (42.0%).
Conversely, only 61.3% of participants who had viewed the screen shots listing rash
and fever as symptoms of Kawasaki disease reported trusting the doctors’ diagnosis,
and 64.2% reported that they were likely to seek a second opinion.
Lead author Ruth Milanaik, D.O., FAAP, an associate professor at the Hofstra Northwell
School of Medicine, said that although there are many advantages of having easily
accessible medical information available on the internet, the study’s findings show
that “internet-driven interpretation of symptoms” can compromise trust between a doctor
“The internet is a powerful information tool, but it is limited by its inability to
reason and think,” Dr. Milanaik said. “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.”
Pediatricians should encourage parents to share all concerns they have, Dr. Milanaik
said, so they lead them through the differential diagnosis process, and why others
diagnoses were ruled out.
“Parents who still have doubts should absolutely seek a second opinion,” she said.
“But they shouldn’t be afraid to discuss the result of internet information with the
The Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) Meeting brings together thousands of individuals
united by a common mission: to improve child health and well-being worldwide. This
international gathering includes pediatric researchers, leaders in academic pediatrics,
experts in child health, and practitioners. The PAS Meeting is produced through a
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child advocacy: Academic Pediatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American
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