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Dr Google Parents place limited trust in web doctors

Child with a thermometer, measuring a fever

Fever or not? Web doctors are used as a kind of second opinion

(Keystone)

Most Swiss parents consult the internet for general advice on children’s health. But if their child actually falls ill, they overwhelmingly turn to real-life doctors, according to a study by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences. 

“Digital media also serve as a first port of call when a problem can’t be classified. And in minor cases people look for ‘grandmother’s cures’,” said study leader Julia Dratva in a statementexternal link on Monday. “But when the child has an acute illness, digital information channels are consulted significantly less.” 

Dratva sees the reason for this as a lack of trust in digital media. For example, 90% of parents believe that information found online is “only sometimes” true. 

The study found that about half of the parents consulted digital media before going to a paediatrician and a quarter afterwards. “Digital guides are used as a kind of second opinion,” the study said. 

Two-thirds of parents try to check the trustworthiness of the source, but only half say they are in a position to understand and assess the information found on the internet. 

“Ultimately, parents eliminate the uncertainty in dealing with digital media by contacting a specialist,” Dratva said. 

Interpersonal contact 

In general, interpersonal contact is still the most frequent source of information. For example, all respondents said they exchange information with at least one person on child health issues, whether it’s informally with family or friends or formally with paediatricians. Even among so-called digital natives personal exchange is the first choice. 

The main online sources are search engines and specific parenting websites (47%). Social media (6%) and apps (8%) tend not to be used much. These results differ from other countries where apps and social media play a significantly greater role. 

“The potential of digital information could be better exploited,” Dratva concluded. “This would require improved digital media and health literacy on the part of parents, as well as comprehensible and scientifically based information on the websites.” 

Around 750 pairs of parents from German-speaking Switzerland with children up to the age of two were interviewed online for the study. In addition, a selection of these parents and doctors were interviewed in focus groups.

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