Pediatrics is changing. There was once a time when parents learned all they needed to know from their doctors. Web 1.0 then created seemingly unlimited access for patients seeking information. We’re now approaching the point where information seeks parents via social networks.
What does this mean for pediatricians? The doctor-parent relationship is changing. Empowered parents are doing their homework and talking among themselves. And more than that they’re getting involved in evaluating treatment options. This increasing role that parents play in their child’s care may be referred to as participatory pediatrics. It is an inevitable derivative of expanding access to information, evolving social networks, and the shrinking capacity of a pediatrician to provide all the information that today’s parent wants and needs during a time-limited encounter.
The reality of participatory pediatrics is most evident in complicated medical conditions where social networks help parents understand options for their child.
So as pediatric providers we have two options: 1) we can suggest that parents never access online information and continue to believe that we alone can provide everything or 2) partner with our parents to help them establish some level of social media literacy while respecting that our relationship with them is different from any other. Hopefully the answer is obvious.
Every pediatrician needs to recognize the realities of our evolving relationship with parents. Guidance in the social media space needs to be introduced as a key component of health care for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics needs to take a proactive role in the establishment of guidelines and recommendations for practicing pediatricians and parents.
While pediatricians may be one-half of a two-way relationship, the market will ultimately support those doctors who recognize and support the changing role of the parent in a child’s care. This shift in shared power with participatory pediatrics may seem difficult but it represents an unavoidable reality that should be leveraged for the best interest of our children.