Paging Dr. Google: Don’t Trust the Internet for Medical Advice

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Parenting in this technical, connected age has all sorts of benefits, but certainly also challenges. As mothers, when our children develop mystery symptoms or something seems off about them, we are one click away from an answer. See, with the internet at the tip of our fingers at any given moment, we can grab our smartphone, bouncing the sick baby in one arm and conducting a quick Google search on the other. You consult Dr. Google for medical advice, which leads you down a rabbit hole of all sorts of “articles” with all the answers you ever need. And if Dr. Google does not do it for you, you can turn to the mommy boards. You’re probably in at least one. Mommy boards on Facebook are a source of community, support, and instant answers.

turning to google for medical advice

Your kid won’t poop? Your online search or discussion thread will tell you to give them prune juice, stick a thermometer up the bum, do bicycle legs, and also at the same time, tell you absolutely without question that there is nothing you should do and that it is completely normal that they have not pooped in that many days.

Your baby has a fever? Your online search or discussion thread will tell you exactly how many mL of tylenol Mommy Sue gives her baby, and at the same time you’ll be told that fevers are the body’s defense mechanism and that treating the fever will mean your baby’s body won’t heal itself properly.

Medicine is the answer. But also is the devil. Essential oils heal. But also are a crock of you know what.

And don’t even get me started on vaccines.

Here’s the thing – these articles, these blog posts, these mommy boards, they make you think they know exactly what they are talking about. They talk a good game. Lots of advice, big on the opinions. But they are no substitute for actual medical advice.

A mommy board I am on recently instituted a new rule – no asking for medical advice. Moms were posting medical questions, for themselves as well as their babies, with all sorts of armchair physicians chiming in.

The new rule made me think: when you consult the internet moms, when you page Dr. Google, how do you know who to trust?

Certainly mothers have been getting medical advice from their tribe for as long as babies have been raised in this world – moms asking their own mothers, their aunts, their neighbors for advice. And cultural norms and traditions related to medical advice have always been passed down generation to generation; after all, don’t you know not to go out into the cold with wet hair? You might catch a cold. And a big bowl of chicken noodle soup absolutely brings a fever down. But these people giving advice, you knew them personally. You trusted them because they were your village. What happens when your village expands to anyone and everyone on the internet?

pediatrician looking in a child's ears

There’s something about this online age that makes me feel like getting medical advice from the internet could almost be parenting malpractice. There is no substitute for the extensive medical training of a pediatrician or nurse. Yes, experience teaches parents tips and tricks, but when it comes to my child’s health, I will stick to calling the nurse’s line or going in to the walk in clinic at the pediatrician.

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A native Memphian who did a 5-year stint in Knoxville for undergrad+grad school, Kathryn loves Memphis. Being a Memphian by birth and by choice, she takes any opportunity she can to share her favorite spots with anyone who will listen. Kathryn is married to her high school sweetheart, a fellow VOLS grad who now works at a local hospital, and mom to Ruthie, born January 2015, Kate, born August 2018, and their encore baby Eliza, born July 2020. After being team #midtownismemphis for (almost) her whole life, Kathryn traded in bungalows and original hardwood for closet space and access to Target. She's adjusting to being an East Memphis mom, but luckily still makes it to all her favorite Midtown spots. Being a mom is the hardest but best thing she's ever done.

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