This Is Why You Should Never Google Your Sick Kid's Symptoms

babywearing mom on phone

When it's 3 a.m. and your kid is rocking a high fever and a weird rash, it's tempting to hop on Google to try to figure out what's wrong. After all, you can't get into the doctor's office until the next morning, and it seems like WebMD can at least give you an idea of what you might be dealing with. But there's a dark side to typing your kid's symptoms into a search engine -- and it's not just the ensuing paranoia you experience. It turns out using the Internet to diagnose our kids is diminishing our trust in pediatricians and making it take longer to get treatment.


Researchers from the American Academy of Pediatrics recruited 1,374 parents and gave each of them a scenario in which a child had a rash and a persistent fever that got worse over a three-day period. The parents were then divided into three groups. One group was given screenshots of online diagnoses that described scarlet fever and strep throat. A second group was given information about Kawasaki disease, a condition in which blood vessels become inflamed and immediate treatment is needed. The third group got no online info or screenshots at all.

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The parents were eventually told that the child in the hypothetical scenario had been diagnosed with scarlet fever, but -- spoiler alert -- many of them weren't buying it. Only 61.3 percent of parents in the Kawasaki group believed the diagnosis, and a whopping 64.2 percent of parents in the scarlet fever/strep group said they'd seek a second opinion. But, of the group who saw zero screenshots, 81 percent believed the diagnosis.

Why does this matter? Because the longer it takes for us to listen to our kids' doctors, the longer it takes for our kids to actually get treated.

In a press release, lead study author Ruth Milanaik 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."

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Of course, that doesn't mean your concerns are unimportant, and you should always ask questions if you feel like you need more information. Dr. Milanaik says, "Pediatricians should encourage parents to share all concerns they have so they lead them through the differential diagnosis process, and why others diagnoses were ruled out."

And, as always, you should seek a second opinion if you truly believe you aren't getting the answers you need. We should never be afraid to question our kids' doctors or tell them when we're worried they might be on the wrong track. But don't fall into the trap of thinking Doctor Google knows more than people with actual medical degrees. When a child is sick or hurting, the last thing any parent wants is to waste precious time brushing the doctor off in favor of a convenient search engine.

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