A Texas 14-year-old was shot in his home Tuesday evening by a family friend playing with a gun. The bullet wound, which was in his upper thigh, appeared fairly serious. The teen could not get up for several minutes after the shooting. Luckily, the teen’s mother was present and she got him to the hospital for treatment — seven hours after he was shot.
Why didn’t she call an ambulance immediately? She Googled “how to treat gunshot wounds” and went to self-diagnosis website WebMD rather than the emergency room to treat her son. As a result, she may now face felony charges for injury to a child by omission.
The entire incident was caught on an in-home surveillance tape. The family friend, Jesse Pete Rodriguez, 24, traced the 14-year-old’s movements with his gun and finally pulled the trigger. Rodriguez is being charged with injury to a child with the intent to cause serious bodily harm.
WebMD’s popularity has perhaps (as this story demonstrates) grown too great. Amid rising emergency room costs, many Americans seek to cut corners by self-diagnosing rather than visiting a doctor or urgent care center. While this practice may save money, it is foolish to assume that a website can have the same ability to advise and treat a patient as a doctor, who has completed medical school, an internship, and residency — and perhaps most important, has human intuition.
In this particular case, that the mother failed to recognize the emergency of her son’s injuries is inexcusable and negligent. But those who search WebMD for other medical issues may unknowingly receive medical advice that could prove even more detrimental to their health. Legal liability prevents WebMD from telling a site visitor absolutely that he or she does not have depression, for example, and so its self-diagnostic quiz tells even the happiest of respondents that they “may be at major risk for depression.”
In an ideal world, people would recognize that WebMD should be used only as a jumping-off point before seeking regular medical treatment, or perhaps for a patient who has been diagnosed by a doctor to better understand his or her ailment. But so long as people continue to use WebMD to supplant hospital visits — even emergency-room ones — the website’s potential dangers are a serious cause for concern.