Expectant moms are turning to Doctor Google for advice. That is, they are seeking answers to their questions about pregnancy that they can’t get in the early weeks of their pregnancies. That’s because the first prenatal visit for a mother-to-be generally takes place at eight weeks into the pregnancy.
That’s pretty late in the game, especially with early pregnancy tests easily available over the counter at drugstores everywhere. Women find out they’re pregnant and then have to wait for two months to get answers to their questions. Is it any wonder they’re excited and curious? Is it any wonder that in the absence of access to a medical expert, moms-to-be turn to the Internet seeking the information they crave?
Penn State researchers discovered that the trend toward getting pregnancy information online is more common than one might have thought. But it’s not that women are happy about turning to Google for answers to their early pregnancy questions. Jennifer L. Kraschnewski, an assistant professor of medicine and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine discovered that expectant moms were annoyed at being forced to turn to the web with their questions. “We found that first-time moms were upset that their first prenatal visit did not occur until eight weeks into pregnancy. 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,” said Kraschnewski.
Worse yet, even after the first prenatal visit to the obstetrician took place, women still found themselves turning to the Internet, whether to search engines or social media, with myriad questions. Mostly because the literature dispensed to them by their doctors was found wanting. The women discovered they still had more questions than answers.
The researchers involved in the Penn State study concluded that prenatal care hasn’t really changed all that much, in spite of technology. The schedule for prenatal visits has, in fact, remained much the same over the past century. The funny thing is that this isn’t at all what the researchers set out to find. Originally, Kraschnewski and her team were attempting to collate information in order to develop an app for smartphones that women could make use of during their pregnancies. Only by accident did the researchers happen on the information that women felt dissatisfied with the way their prenatal care had been structured.
In this study, the researchers looked at 17 expectant women over the age of 18 who owned smartphones. The women were placed into four different focus groups. The major finding was that the majority of the women felt that prenatal visits don’t really address the needs of the individual pregnant woman so that expectant moms felt forced to use technology to fill in the blanks of their prenatal education.
In addition to this fact, however, the research team found that women were dissatisfied with the information available to them over the Internet as well as by the information provided to them by their obstetricians. The pamphlets the women received at their first prenatal visits, for instance, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” were way outdated. On the other hand, the medical information available online is not regulated, so that the quality and accuracy of the information varied widely.
Still, the women mainly preferred watching video clips, social media, apps, and websites to get their pregnancy information. They liked getting information in the varied formats available thanks to technology. “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, who is also affiliated with 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 underlined the problems inherent in the unregulated information available to patients through Google by citing a 2008 study on search engines and common pregnancy terms. This earlier study found that while the most common pregnancy terms generated millions of hits, fewer than 4% of the websites cited in the search engine results for these terms had been created by or developed under the auspices of actual physicians. “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.”