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Investigating the Reliability of Substance Toxicity Information Found on the Internet in Pediatric Poisonings

Kearney, Thomas E. PharmD*†; Lieu, Diane PharmD; Singer, Nathan PharmD§; Tsutaoka, Ben PharmD*†; Ho, Raymond PharmD*†; Olson, Kent MD*†∥

doi: 10.1097/PEC.0000000000000022
Original Articles

Objectives The Internet may be the first source of information used by parents during a suspected poisoning of their children. Our primary aim was to assess the reliability of the Internet as a resource for information for parents to initially manage a suspected poisoning involving their child without outside consultation.

Methods We distributed a self-administered survey to English-speaking parents to evaluate their Internet access behaviors so we could emulate their search strategies for a poisoning. A panel of clinical toxicologists performed an evaluation of Websites to determine the proportion that provided accurate and adequate information on common substances involved in poisonings.

Results Of 21 parents surveyed, 15 (71%) used the Internet daily, with Google and Yahoo being the most commonly used search engines. Seven parents (39%) were somewhat to very likely to utilize the Internet during a poisoning scenario with prescription medications involving their child. Overall, only 27 (38%) of the Websites reviewed advised the user to call the poison center with the proper 800 telephone number, whereas no Website provided adequate information to manage the poisoning without outside consultation. Few Websites provided information on the toxic dose (13%), how to determine whether to manage the poisoning at home or in a hospital (22%), or first aid (28%).

Conclusions The information provided on the Internet for substances involved in poisonings is variable and often incomplete. Reliance on the Internet for poisonings could create needless delays and inappropriate assessments and actions to manage a pediatric poisoning incident.

From the *California Poison Control System, San Francisco Division; †Department of Clinical Pharmacy, University of California, San Francisco; ‡Natividad Medical Center, Salinas; §Kaiser Permanente, Downey Medical Center, Downey; and ∥Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Thomas E. Kearney, PharmD, University of California, San Francisco, UCSF Box 1369, San Francisco, CA 94143 (e-mail:

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.