Physicians can fight back against all of the bad medical information in the digital world by using their own social media presence to get the facts out to the public, said this year’s Richardson Lecture presenter.
“The solution to pollution is dilution. That is really the answer. It’s a popularity contest. The more good information that gets on there, and the more good information that gets uploaded, the more people will see it. The more they see it, the less they go to the bad information,” said Dr. Jen Gunter, MD, FRCS(C), FACOG, DABPM, ABPMR, who presented “From V-Steams to Twitter Streams: Social Media for Communicating Reproductive Health and Why it Matters” on Saturday morning.
When looking up medical information, 77 percent of people start with a simple search engine, according to a 2013 study. What they find, said Dr. Gunter, a Bay Area obstetrician-gynecologist, blogger, and author of the Preemie Primer, is often misinformation that differs from best medical practices.
Don’t underestimate the impact of bad information. The more that biologically implausible ideas become accepted, she said, the more everybody suffers through the erosion of science and common sense.
Dr. Gunter used the example of actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who last year wrote online about the benefits of the V-Steam. The mugwort of the V-Steam is closely related to ragweed, so people might be steaming with an allergen.
But social media in the right hands can help. Links and content from Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and other sites can have a long reach. Something that starts as a tweet or post can end up in articles. Reporters will find you, Dr. Gunter said, because they are desperate for good sources.
In five years of blogging (https://drjengunter.wordpress.com/), Dr. Gunter has an average of 10,000 page views a day, peaking sometimes at 250,000 views. Doctors have told Dr. Gunter that they use her posts as handouts, and some posts serve as the basis for news stories.
Physicians active on social media control their online presence and know what their patients are reading and hearing. Social media offers another way to engage with and build an online community. Attendees at professional conferences tweet interesting developments from those meetings, she said.
“The more you make medicine personal, the more accessible it is. And the more accessible it is, the more patients can hear you,” she said.
But physicians using social media also must take precautions, such as not “friending” or contacting patients through personal social media or venting frustrations — even with close friends and colleagues — that may come off as disrespectful and unprofessional.
Physicians in the social media space must also be HIPAA compliant, make sure they are talking about conditions, not patients, not posting pictures while intoxicated, or discussing illegal activity.