How can doctors stop fake medical news

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When I started on my path in medicine, I was an optimistic, wide-eyed, enthusiastic medical student. I had fond memories of rounding on Sundays with my vascular surgeon father as a child, and I remembered the appreciation his patients would express when we would run into them at our local grocery store. My dad never complained about taking call or not having enough time to spend with his patients. The complaints I would hear around the house were all regarding him advocating for his patients. He did not mention frustration with patients accusing him of pushing his agenda by prescribing medications, or concern that his knowledge was not as up to date as what they had heard on television.

In the post-Jenny McCarthy era, vaccines have now become a “cause of concern,” and the internet has bestowed an honorary MD on any individual spending 10 minutes on a Google search. These days, when you read the news or turn on the tv or radio, there is always some breaking news or national crisis being reported. Sensationalism and clickbait have resulted in a constant barrage of news and information directly streamed into our living rooms, our cars and through our phones into our hands. It is becoming more and more difficult to filter out what is real and what is fiction.

Before the phrase “going viral” existed, a hoax email circulated from “John Hopkins University” with inaccurate information relating to cancer and prevention. This was not from the reputable Johns Hopkins University, and a press release was sent out to educate the public that the email was not medically accurate and was from a “fake account.” Unfortunately, the damage was done, and much of the false information from that email is still referenced by patients today. As physicians, we appreciate and encourage our patients to be well informed and research their disease and treatment plans. But with the rise of fake news and the questioning of science as actual facts, where can a patient go to confirm the validity of the information they are inundated with on a daily basis? And when political leaders try to redefine medical facts by quoting their own “fake news,” how can, we as health professionals, combat this worsening health problem?

A piece recently came out in Forbes titled, “Doctors Need To Shut Up More.” I believe the exact opposite is true, and to think otherwise is short-sighted and dangerous. Physicians are uniquely positioned and have years of training and education. If intelligent, educated individuals don’t come out to provide accurate information and educate the general public, who will? For too many years, physicians have not been as active in leadership outside of their professional practices for a variety of reasons. Physicians were too busy with clinical responsibilities or had no interest. Physicians were told that they should “stick to medicine.” Because of this, the medical industry has landed itself in a tenuous place.

“Physicians don’t know how to manage a business or increase a clinics productivity so let us handle it” has resulted in a loss of physician autonomy and a health care system that is struggling. “Physicians should stick to seeing patients and not get involved in the media” has resulted in celebrities promoting their products as ‘medicinal’ and patients are now using essential oils to try and cure their cancer and foregoing proven therapies. “Physicians shouldn’t be involved in politics” has now resulted in our government implementing laws that negatively impact women’s health, pediatric health, and public health to name a few.

Physicians learn physiology and biology as mentioned in the original Forbes article. But we are part of a unique profession. We don’t just treat the physical ailments of the human body; we treat the human soul and spirit as well. We provide emotional support, counseling, comprehensive care that has a subsequent butterfly effect on all individuals the patient interacts with. We are privy to the patient’s most intimate thoughts and desires. We know how one decision can affect many. We should not shut up. With the internet and easily accessible “fake news,” “false medical advice” and everyone with a platform claiming they have a magic solution to cure your ails, now is the time for physicians to do the opposite of shut up. Now is the time physicians should use our decades of training and education to help improve the health of our national health. So I implore all physicians: Don’t shut up; use your knowledge to help make the world a better place.

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson

Shikha Jain is a hematology-oncology physician who blogs at her self-titled site, Dr. Shikha Jain.  She can be reached on Twitter @ShikhaJainMD.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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