By Kim Blake @kimkblake
Warning – this blog post contains hot button topics like vaccines and circumcision. If this were Babycenter.com, one of the top communities for moms, you could expect about 25 pages of comments in an hour. It’s no surprise that these issues are hotly debated – they are two of the most difficult decisions that parents make because they concern their child’s health.
When making decisions related to the health of their families, moms get their information from many different sources. Not too long ago, consumers simply trusted what their doctor, family and friends recommended. Enter the Internet. Today, moms go to popular parenting forums like BabyCenter and The Bump to solicit advice from their “friends.” It gives new meaning to the term Dr. Mom.
A post on the BabyCenter December 2012 Birth Club that asked “For those of you who are having boys will you or won’t you circumcise?” received 407 responses. It remains hotly debated in other posts even after the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently revised its policy to say that the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks, indicating that the issue still remains in question in spite of the AAP’s guidance. In fact, the number of circumcisions has steeply declined in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, circumcision rates increased from 48.3 percent to 61.1 percent between 1988 and 2000, but had declined to 56.9 percent by 2008.
Vaccinations are no different. Each year, the AAP publishes its Recommended Childhood and Adolescent Immunization schedule, which includes a variety of childhood vaccines, as well as an annual flu vaccine, yet many parents still take their questions online. On The Bump, a question, “To vaccinate or not to?!” resulted in 115 responses (and the issue of vaccination comes up frequently with just as many responses).
Moms go to these forums for camaraderie, moral support and advice. But, do they trust strangers (who likely do not have any medical credentials) more than their doctors? Thankfully, the research shows that while moms seek advice from a variety of sources, they still trust their doctors more. University of Michigan researchers conducted a national study in 2011 indicating that the source most trusted by parents for vaccine-safety information is their children’s doctor. This is consistent with a 2010 U.S. National Cancer Institute survey that showed “people’s trust in physicians has increased with the ascent of the Internet, while their trust in Internet information has declined slightly over time.” In addition, the research indicated that “people take their health questions to the Internet first, performing their own research. Then they take that information to their doctor for discussion.”
As health care marketers targeting moms, we aim to make the most efficient use of resources. While mom bloggers and online communities are an important part of the strategy, we cannot forget health care providers, who are still seen as the most trusted resource when making health care decisions, and friends and family (offline) who also influence the moms in their lives. The debates about circumcision and vaccinations will continue online, but the research shows the decision happens in the doctor’s office.