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The danger of Googling for health advice

Filed in
  • The internet
  • Pediatrics

American Academy of Sleep Medicine  |  Aug 07, 2012
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We're trained as internet users to Google (or Bing) any question we need answered. Thanks to an ever-evolving algorithm, most of the time these search engines return useful websites and information. But don't use Dr. Google to find medical advice. Medical information offered up by search engines can be inaccurate or irrelevant, a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests.

A group of pediatric researchers evaluated the quality of search results related to infant safety issues. Out of 1,300 results from 13 search phrases such as "infant sleep position" and "pacifier infant", only 43.5 percent provided relevant information.

One example the researchers cited was a website that sells infant sleep consulting services that suggested that children can sleep on their stomachs after they have the ability to roll onto their bellies. The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against this, recommending only supervised, awake stomach time for children up to one-year-old.

Consider the source when you are looking up health information on the web. Credible organizations such as health care leaders, government organization and professional medical nonprofits are more likely to provide trustworthy information than .coms hawking health products or services. There's one source that's always reliable to answer health questions: a board-certified physician. Always consult your primary care physician, rather than self-diagnose, if you think you may have a medical problem based on the signs and symptoms you read about on the web. If you suspect you may have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, see a board-certified sleep specialist.

In addition to this website, below are some of the more trustworthy patient information websites:

National Institutes of Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Mayo Clinic