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How to Find Accurate Online Medical Advice

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When I launched DrGreene .com in 1995, it was the only pediatric resource online. Sixteen years later, there’s more medical information at your fingertips than parents could sift through in a lifetime—some of it accurate, some of it bogus, and a lot that’s in between.

Most of the parents I see have already Googled “sore throat,” “stomach cramps,” and “dull headache” before walking into my office. But how does a parent know whom to trust? And if you bring printouts to your child’s next appointment, will your doc get offended? Speaking from the other end of the stethoscope, here’s how your pediatrician wants you to use the Internet.

Check the Source
Because a website appears on the first page of a search engine’s results doesn’t mean it’s the most accurate. (Google ranks its results based on a number of criteria, including how many other pages are linked back to it.) Add to that the countless armchair diagnoses that “e-patients” post online. Consider this: 41 percent of American adults have consulted someone else’s online commentary about a health or medical issue. Instead, look for sites that end in .gov and .edu (domains of government and educational institutions, respectively). And here’s a revolutionary idea: Ask your doctors for websites they trust. Don’t worry, we won’t get offended.

Compare and Contrast
It’s no accident that we have two eyes to perceive depth and two ears to pinpoint locations of sounds. Choose at least two distinct (and verifiable) online sources and pay attention to the similarities and differences in what you find; it can help you determine the best questions to ask your doc.

Curate Your Findings
I often hear from doctors who worry about the time sink of parents who bring in reams of printouts from the Internet, much of it flat-out wrong. But these mythic parents are few and far between. If you want to bring something you found online to your child’s next appointment, that’s fine. I suggest boiling down your dossier to something that can fit on a 3-by-5 card (or, in tech speak, one smartphone screen). I really do prefer that parents educate themselves online. It makes our real-life interactions much richer. Just like it was in the analog days, pediatric wisdom shines brightest at the intersection of art and science, where a parent’s intuition and a physician’s expertise overlap.

Alan Greene, M.D. is a pediatrician and the author of the best-selling Raising Baby Green. He lives in Danville, CA.

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