Diagnosing Online Can Make Parents Paranoid

The Internet can make life easier and save you time when you need information in a hurry. But doctors say, beware when it comes to looking there for medical information.
“Parents need to be very careful when they go to the Internet,” Dr. Susan Glasser, a pediatrician at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, warns parents of sick children.
Parents should not use the Internet as a substitute for a physician, she said. Many illnesses share symptoms, so diagnosing by using the Internet can be dangerous.
“A good example of that is a parent who has a child with a fever and a rash that could be many different things. It could be a benign viral syndrome or it could be as serious as meningococcemia,” Glasser said.
Pediatricians have years of experience conducting diagnoses and Web sites can miss key facts. Glasser points out that a 1-month old baby with a fever might be much sicker than an older baby with a fever.
Glasser also said medical information online can be just plain wrong.
“The Web site may not be legitimate or it may be out of date. For instance, it may be recommending cold and cough medicines, which we really are not recommending in children under age 6 these days,” she said.
As the parents of three children, Clint and Leah Kennedy, of Mystic, know all about childhood illnesses. When their first child, Noah, now 9, was sick as a baby, they turned to the Internet for medical information and were shocked, like so many new parents, who do the same.
“You read information about symptoms and what could happen further down the line, and then as you read through the sites. They’ll give information about surgeries and you are just imagining the worst,” Leah Graner-Kennedy said.
Now, after three children, they know to call their doctor first, which is just what Dr. Glasser recommends.
One look at symptoms listed on the Internet and it’s easy to see why it can give parents anxiety symptoms of their own.
NBCConnecticut.com went against doctor’s orders and searched online for causes for a child’s “stomach ache.”

One Web site listed a cause as minor as overeating but also appendicitis with immediate action needed.
A search for “child skin rash” brought up potential diagnoses including measles, rubella and scarlet fever.
Bottom line, Dr. Glasser recommends using the Internet with caution and in conjunction with a doctor’s care.
She recommends websites including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control.

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