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Online ped-derm searches: What are folks looking for?



– After searching online for information about a suspected pediatric dermatologic condition, one in five parents and/or pediatric patients make dermatology appointments sooner than they normally would, results from a novel survey showed.

Jamie P. Schlarbaum Fourth-year medical student, the University of Minnesota

Jamie P. Schlarbaum

In an interview at the annual meeting of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology, study author Jamie P. Schlarbaum noted that about one-third of Americans use the Internet to research their condition or symptoms prior to visiting a physician, mostly through Google. “While nearly 50% of parents look up health care information online for their children, rashes were the most common search in pediatrics in 2011,” said Mr. Schlarbaum, who is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. “However, no studies have examined the characteristics and implications of these searches; our study is the first in pediatric dermatology and also adds a new dimension to concern in an online era: How these searches influence health care behaviors.”

During February 2018–February 2019, Kristen Hook, MD, a pediatric dermatologist in Minneapolis and the study’s principal investigator, and Mr. Schlarbaum administered a survey to 220 parents/guardians and pediatric patients who had appointments in pediatric dermatology at a University of Minnesota clinic. The survey consisted of questions about demographics, search tools, search terms, and health care decisions based on this information.

Of the 220 respondents, more than half (59%) did not use an online search engine/tool prior to their appointment. Compared with parents who did not use an online search tool, those who did were slightly younger (34 vs. 36 years, respectively), more likely to be college educated (68% vs. 48%), and less likely to have the patient in question be their first child (37% vs. 52%).

Google ranked as the most common search engine used by the survey respondents (92%), followed distantly by WebMD (18%). About 15% of respondents became more concerned about the pediatric skin condition after searching online, and 20% made appointments sooner because of the information they gleaned from their searches. “Online dermatology clearly has an influence on care today,” Mr. Schlarbaum said. “As we become an even more technologically advanced and dependent society, we anticipate that both of these numbers will grow.”

The researchers also found that survey respondents self-diagnosed a number of dermatologic conditions based on their time spent online, including eczema (33%), moles (15%), and infections (11%). “The big takeaway [from this study] is to ask your parents and teenagers if they’ve looked up information online,” Mr. Schlarbaum said. “Whether it’s photos of the ‘worst cases’ or concerning differentials that might pop up, it’s worth it to take a few seconds to ask what they’re worried about and why.”

He acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including its small sample size and single-center design. The researchers reported having no financial disclosures.

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