Last evening I called a mother to discuss the results of her daughter’s recent upper endoscopy. It was a standard discussion where I discuss the findings of the pathologist and try to put it into the context of the child’s complaint. As it turns out, this child had a fairly common inflammatory condition of the upper small intestine referred to as eosinophilic duodenitis. As my explanation progressed it became clear that the mother wasn’t paying any attention to what I was explaining but was instead intent on getting the spelling of every unusual word that fell from my lips. Sensing that she was interested only in catching key words for a Google search, I encouraged her instead to follow my explanation of how inflammation in the upper intestinal tract can lead to nausea and poor tummy ache. She humored me and promised to follow my lead but I could still sense scribbling in the background. In the end, despite an impressive list of search terms, she had no idea what I had told her.
This encounter illustrates the change that has taken place between doctor and parent over the past few years. We have entered an era of parent empowerment driven by the Internet, mass media and different varieties of social media. There was a time when a parent’s network was limited to the neighborhood or mother’s group. The pediatrician was king and the parent-doctor relationship was paternalistic. Now mothers are talking and learning in more ways than ever. Things have changed. Seth Rubel of Micropersuasion discusses how social media is influencing this fundamental shift in healthcare.
This availability of information is intoxicating for some parents. And any good pediatrician will tell you that controlling that feeling of personal power can be difficult for some parents. But no one should fear anyone’s access to information. Parents and patients learn what works and what doesn’t. My patient’s mom, for example, will learn that while eosinophils in the gut can indicate a parasite, they’re more often a nonspecific indicator of irritation in kids.
In 2006 pediatricians help interpret what parents come to learn and believe on their own. While the Internet has not created this pattern it has certainly amplified it.