April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
More people are turning to Internet sources for medical advice and information, and that includes pregnant women. A research team from Penn State found that pregnant women are unhappy with how often they turn to online sites with their medical questions. The study findings were published in a recent issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
“We found that first-time moms were upset that their first prenatal visit did not occur until eight weeks into pregnancy,” said Jennifer L. Kraschnewski, assistant professor of medicine and public health sciences, Penn State College of Medicine. “These women reported using Google and other search engines because they had a lot of questions at the beginning of pregnancy, before their first doctor’s appointment.”
The researchers found that many women, even following their first visit to the obstetrician, returned to search engines and social media to find answers to their questions. These women felt like the literature provided by their doctor’s office was insufficient. The team reports that the structure of prenatal care in the US has changed very little in the last 100 years, despite the rapid evolution of technology.
The original focus of the study was to gather information for the development of a smartphone app for women to use during pregnancy. The discovery that a majority of women were dissatisfied with the structure of their prenatal care was an incidental outcome of that research.
Four focus groups, made up of a total of 17 pregnant women over the age of 18 who owned smartphones, were conducted by the research team. Most of the participants agreed that they turned to technology to fill their knowledge gaps about pregnancy because they were dissatisfied with the structure of prenatal visits—saying the visits were not responsive to their individual needs. The women were not satisfied with the questionable accuracy of the online information, either.
The information disseminated by the doctors’ offices were considered to be outdated to the participants. They would prefer to receive their information in different formats than pamphlets, flyers and books. Instead, they would rather watch videos and use social media and pregnancy-tracking apps and websites.
“This research is important because we don’t have a very good handle on what tools pregnant women are using and how they engage with technology,” said Kraschnewski, also an affiliate of the Penn State Institute for Diabetes and Obesity. “We have found that there is a real disconnect between what we’re providing in the office and what the patient wants.”
Kraschnewski stresses that regulation of medical information on the Internet is nearly non-existent. This could become problematic by alarming patients unnecessarily. According to a 2008 study, less than four percent of the millions of websites that surface when searching for common pregnancy terms were created or sponsored by doctors.
“Moving forward, in providing medical care we need to figure out how we can provide valid information to patients,” said Kraschnewski. “We need to find sound resources on the Internet or develop our own sources.”
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