Introduction: Research has shown that people are turning to the Internet as a source of medical information. Parents of infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), specifically, are using the Internet to research their infant’s health status. However, it is unknown what impact this may have on parental stress/confidence in their child’s health care professionals (HCPs) and whether HCPs are being informed of this usage of online medical information. Purpose: To explore the impact of Internet use on NICU parents’ confidence in their child’s HCPs and overall stress. Methods: Parents of NICU graduates participated in a 15 minute semi-structured interview during routine NICU follow-up visits. Interviewers asked parents to report frequency of: (1) Internet use to obtain information about their child’s health, (2) discussion of online information with HCPs, (3) online information conflicting with HCP recommendations, and (4) believing online information more than HCPs (5-point Likert scale;1=Never to 5=Always). Parents were also asked the effect that the Internet had on their overall stress and on their confidence in HCPs (1=A lot less to 5=A lot more) as well as whether they would recommend that other NICU parents use the Internet during their stay, followed by demographic questions. Results: Of the 26 respondents (65.4% female, 42.3% white), 66.7% (n=16) reported using online search engines to inquire about their NICU infant’s health. On average, those who used the Internet did so “Sometimes” to “Very Often” (mean=3.5) and discussed this online information “Sometimes” to “Very Often” with HCPs (mean=3.4). Though this online information reportedly “Rarely” conflicted with information from HCPs (mean=2.1) and was “Rarely” believed more than HCPs (mean=1.7), the online information did make parents feel slightly more stressed (mean=2.8) but more confident in their infant’s HCP (mean=3.7). However, only 43.8% of those who reported using the Internet to obtain health information about their NICU baby said that they would recommend that other NICU parents utilize similar resources. Conclusion: While the majority of parents used the Internet to research their NICU infant’s health conditions, less than half of these parents recommended that other parents do so. These results, combined with the reported increase in stress, indicate that parents of NICU infants were generally negatively impacted by information found on the Internet and HCPs in NICUs should consider proactively addressing the Internet use of NICU parents and its potential effects.

Summary of average responses regarding Internet Use in NICU