The story of a mama who, after over three years of zero answers, solved her child’s mystery medical illness using OpenAI’s ChatGPT went viral last month. Despite countless doctor visits and tests, the cause remained elusive—until she entered a comprehensive history of her child’s symptoms into ChatGPT. To her surprise, she was given a probable diagnosis of tethered cord syndrome—a rare condition that her doctors had missed—and the medical mystery was solved.
This story underscores the growing allure of using ChatGPT for medical advice. It’s well documented that women experience medical gaslighting or feel dismissed by care providers, which may make it even more tempting to turn to AI for answers. And no one can blame an exhausted, desperate mama for trying to find answers after possibly facing months or even years of frustration and uncertainty. “When your child is suffering, you want to use every tool in your box to find answers,” Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician, author and creator of the Snoo Smart Sleeper, shares with Motherly.
Every parent can admit they’ve typed symptoms into Google at 2 a.m. to self-diagnose their child (or themselves). But is ChatGPT any better? “ChatGPT is like a super-duper Google search to give parents ideas to share with their physician, especially for a puzzling situation,” says Dr. Karp.
Still, red flags abound when considering using AI for medical diagnosis. “Where it gets tricky is when people start to use tools like ChatGPT instead of seeking a trained medical professional’s help,” Dr. Karp shares. “I think that’s important for families to understand.”
Using ChatGPT for medical advice lacks the human touch
AI may seem like it’s the easy answer, but it severely lacks the human element. “Practicing medicine is an art,” Dr. Flora Sinha, board-certified Cedars Sinai Medical Group internist, shares. “While many outpatient medical cases can be straightforward, ‘bread and butter,’ even algorithmic, practicing medicine is based on experience, medical knowledge, relying on appropriate resources (sorry—Google isn’t one of them), pattern recognition, and most importantly, developed intuition. AI cannot offer this.”
How exactly does Chat GPT work? It combs the internet, analyzing and sorting through the vast amount of medical content available to generate a response. However, AI is not equipped to consider all factors a human provider can when assessing a patient. “Googling or using AI to decipher your child’s illness can cause unnecessary anxiety,” says Dr. Karp. “It could lead to you demanding medical tests that are unnecessary, and it could delay you from going to see a healthcare professional when you should.”
ChatGPT can’t look at you or your child and see the complete clinical picture. “There’s no personalized assessment. There’s an inability to conduct physical examinations, review medical records, or take a complete medical history, “says Dr. Sinha. “It can’t ask symptom-based, clarifying questions or respond to changing conditions.”
ChatGPT can’t vet online results for false information
While the mama from the story is undeniably inspiring, there’s no guarantee that the information you get is from a reputable source. The internet is, unfortunately, full of misinformation, and ChatGPT pulls from it all.
“Another big issue with programs like ChatGPT is that they scrape info from all sorts of websites without vetting that information first,” says Dr. Karp. “That means info from reputable sources—like the CDC or the American Academy of Pediatrics—can get jumbled up with false information from unvetted sources, so you have no way of knowing if the “diagnosis” ChatGPT spits out is based on scientific evidence.” The last thing any parent needs is extra anxiety over a potential diagnosis that may not even be scientifically sound.
ChatGPT can be a resource to use with proper medical care
According to Dr. Sinha, ChatGPT can have positive applications when used appropriately—mainly as a helpful guide for gathering information before a medical visit. “First, AI has a wide range of data. It’s useful to gather educational information to help understand common medical terms and concepts,” Dr. Sinha explains. She says that since it could provide a fast answer to basic medical questions (think: “What’s considered a high fever?”), it can be a helpful 24/7 tool for those middle-of-the-night worries. “But so is the ER with live medical help and trained medical professionals,” she adds.
Think of ChatGPT as a tool in your parenting toolbox
ChatGPT may not be ready to take over your doctor’s practice (thank goodness), but it has its place. Think of it like an at-your-fingertips medical encyclopedia or resource. Still, as Dr. Karp reminds us, it should never replace visiting an actual doctor.
Dr. Sinha echoes this sentiment, “ChatGPT can generate feedback based on symptom-based pattern recognition, but it should not be relied upon for medical decision making,” she says. “It can never be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.”
Harvey Karp, MD is the author of the bestselling book The Happiest Baby on the Block and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper, the first—and only—medical device to receive De Novo Authorization from the FDA for its ability to keep sleeping babies safely on their backs all sleep long.
Dr. Flora Sinha is a mindset transformation coach, board-certified internist, speaker, and IVF warrior. With a medical degree from the University of Arizona and residency completed at the University of California – Irvine, she currently practices internal medicine with Cedars Sinai Medical Group.