Background: The use of the Internet to search for medical and health-related information is increasing and associated with concerns around quality and safety.
Objective: We investigated the current use and perceptions on reliable websites for children's health information by parents.
Methods: Following institutional ethics approval, we conducted a survey of parents/guardians of children presenting for day surgery. A 20-item survey instrument developed and tested by the investigators was administered.
Results: Ninety-eight percent of respondents reported that they used the Internet to search for information about their child's health. Many respondents reported beginning their search at public search engines (80%); less than 20% reported starting their search at university/hospital-based websites. Common conditions such as colds/flu, skin conditions and fever were the most frequently searched, and unique conditions directly affecting the child were second. Despite low usage levels of university/hospital-based websites for health information, the majority of respondents (74%) regarded these as providing safe, accurate, and reliable information. In contrast, only 24% of respondents regarded public search engines as providing safe and reliable information. Fifty percent of respondents reported that they cross-checked information found on the internet with a family physician.
Conclusions: An unprecedented majority of parents and guardians are using the Internet for their child's health information. Of concern is that parents and guardians are currently not using reliable and safe sources of information. Health care providers should begin to focus on improving access to safe, accurate, and reliable information through various modalities including education, designing for multiplatform, and better search engine optimization.
Keywords: Internet; health information technology; pediatrics.