Caregivers of pediatric otolaryngology patients used the Internet to search for information about the child’s procedure and the surgeon doing the procedure.


Previous research demonstrates that nearly all parents—98%—search for medical information pertaining to their children’s health. However, Libby M. Ward, MD, and colleagues point out that there is a gap in the literature regarding this search for information.

“There is no recent literature on how parents and guardians of pediatric otolaryngologic patients use the Internet and social media to learn about their child’s surgery,” Dr. Ward and colleagues wrote in the American Journal of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Medicine and Surgery. “This information is important so otolaryngologists can engage in conversation surrounding the information available online and inform parents and guardians about where to find reliable information.”

To address this gap, Dr. Ward and colleagues developed a survey that was administered to caregivers of pediatric otolaryngologic surgery patients at a single medical center between April and August 2019. Participants included caregivers who had a child aged 18 or younger who was scheduled for an otolaryngologic procedure who could understand either English or Spanish. The study was completed by 105 caregivers.

The 17-question survey asked about demographics, Internet and social media use, parent/guardian research regarding the child’s surgery and the surgeon, and the application of the information obtained online.

Younger Parents More Likely to Research

The question about Internet and social media use was answered by 101 caregivers, or 96.2% of respondents. More than half (59.4%) of these respondents answered that they have used online resources to obtain information about their child’s procedure.

Age was found to be a factor in online usage (Figure). For each additional year of age of the caregiver, there was a 2.5% drop in the likelihood of that parent doing Internet research. However, education, the caregiver’s relationship to the patient, annual income, race, and employment status were not significant factors in a caregiver’s use of the Internet to research medical information about their child.

The preferred tool for searching was Google (86.2%). Websites that caregivers visited directly for medical information included YouTube (36.2%), Wikipedia (15.5%), hospital websites (8.6%), Facebook (3.4%), UpToDate (1.7%), news sites (1.7%), and WebMD (1.7%).

The topics that the caregivers were searching for were general information about the surgery their child was going to undergo (68.5%), risks involved (52.8%), pain/recovery (45.3%), and information specific to their procedure/condition (30.2%, n = 54). In terms of time spent searching, 77.0% spent <1 hour researching the surgery online (n = 56).

Influence Without Follow-up

In terms of applying the information found on the Internet or through social media, 69.1% reported that the information they read impacted the healthcare decisions they made for their child (n = 55). Furthermore, 85.1% felt that the information was trustworthy and 96.2% reported that it was helpful. The majority said they would definitely or probably recommend the information to others (83.3%).

However, only 21.1% of caregivers discussed the information with their child’s surgeon.

A proportion of participants responded that they did not search the Internet for information regarding their child’s surgery (40.6%).  Those that did not search the web gave the following reasons: the information from the doctor was enough (79.2%), the caregiver received information from family members or friends (20.8%), the caregiver was in a healthcare-related profession (12.5%), the caregiver had another child who underwent surgery (12.5%), and the caregiver felt like they didn’t have a choice (4.2%).

Scouting the Surgeon

A few caregivers (17%) collected information about their child’s surgeon from the Internet. Of these caregivers, 73.3% were looking into the surgeon’s experience, 33.3% were looking for general information, 20.0% wanted to find out about the surgeon’s education, 20.0% were interested in reviews of the surgeon, 13.3% wanted to check the surgeon’s availability, and 6.67% were interested in the surgeon’s published works.

Of the parents who performed a search about their child’s surgeon, 69.2% said that this information influenced their choice of surgeon.

“Parents found the surgeon’s experience to be the most important information that they found, illustrating the benefit of highlighting physician experience on online resources and communication,” Dr Ward and colleagues wrote. The researchers also pointed to the importance of ensuring parents can determine “what health information is factual and reliable when searching the Internet.” Using the study results to form discussions with patients’ parents on how they use the Internet for healthcare information will help otolaryngologists better direct them to appropriate and accurate resources, they add, particularly those from professional societies, medical universities, and the National Institutes of Health.