Patient Education and Digital Citizenship

Digital Citizenship Week is coming to an end. Most of the events for this special week focus on kids, but we think it’s worth contemplating what kind of digital citizenship your practice is modeling.

With HIPAA on your mind, you certainly think before you post. Here are a couple of our posts on the subject:

But healthcare professionals have a chance to help with a real problem: the quality of medical information on the web.

Your patients are Googling.

A court recently refused to hear a case claiming that “google” has become a common verb and shouldn’t be treated as a trade name anymore. Even so, 82% of Americans who use the internet use it to search for health-related information. Often they use this data to prepare for a doctor visit, and ask their physicians about what they’ve found online.

Sometimes the use online information instead of checking in with their doctor.

Is that a problem?

How good is online health information?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, current research on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome tells us that SIDS is probably caused by a “triple risk” of factors:

  • underlying brain abnormalities that make a baby vulnerable
  • a critical developmental period
  • one or more environmental risk factors

Since the third point is the one over which parents have control, there has been a major effort to educate parents about the dangers of second-hand smoke, and especially on safe sleeping conditions for infants. These efforts have significantly reduced the incidence of SIDS in the United States.

Knowing that parents are likely to Google for information after they hear about SIDS, Matthew Chung et al did a study which they titled, “Safe Infant Sleep Recommendations on the Internet: Let’s Google It.” They checked the top 100 results of internet searches for 13 keywords (words and phrases) and compared the information they found with American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations for infant sleep safety.

We’re assuming that there was some overlap, but they checked up to 1300 websites, and these were the results:

  • 43.5% gave accurate information.
  • 28.1% gave inaccurate information.
  • 28.4% had no relevant information.

That is, less than half of the information available was accurate.

What can you do about it?

First, have a blog on your practice website. This is your opportunity to share accurate information and link to government websites — the most accurate sources, according to the study mentioned above. Blogs in general were the least accurate. But blogs are often more appealing than government websites. We found a lot of vlogs, too, sharing opinions that weren’t always in sync with the AAP recommendations. 

Forums also spread inaccurate information.


Share accurate information in an appealing post, with links to those authoritative government sites.

Make it easy to read, and share it with your patients. They already know and trust you, and they’ll be likely to accept your advice over that random blogger. But other parents may also find your post and read it.

Make it easy to share the post on social media, and the truth will spread. You’ll be providing value for your patients, and you’ll also be doing your part as a good digital citizen.






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