If you are looking for online medical advice, stick with these sources.
As a medical geneticist, I frequently discuss things with families that they have never heard before. If you are like many parents I meet in clinic, Google can be your best friend. However, I always caution families that information on the internet may not be reliable. How do you tell what information is solid?
1. Choose websites from trusted sources.
Hospitals frequently include information for patients and parents on their websites. For example, the Health & Wellness Library available on Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt’s website provides information that can be trusted. Additionally, the information is divided into sections for children, teens and parents, so you can feel comfortable allowing your child to use these web pages as well.
Another trusted source would be government websites like those sponsored by the National Institutes of Health or Centers for Disease Control. If you are looking for information about this year’s flu shot, for example, you can search “CDC flu vaccine” to land on the CDC’s webpage.
Recognized medical associations also provide information accessible to parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics developed a parent-focused website, which addresses many topics that are relevant to parents, from nutrition to car seats and much more.
Disease-specific societies or associations are frequently good sources of information as well, though they may be more difficult to assess. My advice is to ask your doctors and nurses for guidance. Many times, your child’s medical providers are familiar with sources of information on the internet, and are willing to share these resources with you. For example, within the Down syndrome community, our local Down Syndrome Association of Middle Tennessee provides quite a bit of relevant and updated information. Additionally, some of the websites of trusted sources – like hospital and government sites – will link you to other appropriate websites. Look for links under “Resources,” “Support Groups” or “References.”
2. Be cautious about information found on personal blogs and websites.
While many parent-written websites are well done, some contain inaccurate or unreliable information about a particular disease or disorder. I have found that it can be difficult for a parent to judge without having prior expertise in a specific disease.
3. If you read something on the internet that conflicts with information your provider has given, ask him or her about it.
Sometimes the differences are a matter of opinion. Sometimes the information you’ve found on the internet is outdated. Sometimes the information on the internet applies to some children, but not your child.
As a provider, I don’t know everything that’s on the internet. I will never know everything on the internet – it is so vast and always changing. But I can have a conversation with parents about their children and give them my best recommendations.
Tracy McGregor, M.D., is a Clinical Geneticist at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, where she enjoys caring for patients in Genetics Clinic and Down Syndrome Clinic. She also works to improve the health of kids with her research in medicines and genes. When she’s not at Vanderbilt, she enjoys baking and reading.