Daniel Esgardo Rangel Barón: Medical Misinformation | Can Doctors Control Social Media?

If you have a moment check out Medical Misinformation – Vet the Message, an editorial published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. It’s written by 22 editors-in-chief of major cardiovascular journals and builds the case for medical misinformation as a modern crisis for doctors and patients.

This nugget caught my eye:

Purveyors of social media must be responsible for the content they disseminate. It is no longer acceptable to hide behind the cloak of platform. We, as editors, are charged with evaluating the validity of the science pre- sented to us for possible publication, and we work hard to fulfill this heady responsibility. Recognizing that lives are at stake, we reach out to thought-leading experts to evaluate the veracity of each report we receive. Here, we challenge social media to do the same, to leverage the ready availability of science-conversant expertise before disseminating content that may not be reliable.

If I read this correctly, the authors are suggesting that social media medical misinformation should be countered with platform-mediated, pre-post review by medical experts.

After trying to coming to terms with the fact that this editorial was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association and not The Onion, I struggled with how something like this might be addressed by the physician community.

In the spirit of Milton Packer’s Twitter education, I came up with a couple of ideas to put the editorial into perspective:

Doctors don’t control information

Patient access to information comes with benefits and risks. While the authors skew their discussion toward the problems with public access to information, they fail to acknowledge the tremendous benefit that patients derive from understanding their personal disease processes.

As a full-time provider to families struggling with pediatric digestive diseases, my experience is different. Working with engaged, educated parents I have found that their information helps drive important conversations. While the families of chronically ill children often embrace unproven, alternative therapies, I have found that most understand and respect that my domain experience is different from web-gathered information. But both have their place. And typically they’re often complementary.

Doctors are the first to complain but the last to create

So rather than try to control the sharing of information, we would do better by creating or curating the information we believe would help our patients learn and understand. A better approach is to participate, not proscribe.

Doctors can’t control the conversation

No one can. All we can do is join it. This is a fundamental principle of social networks that the authors fail to recognize.

The authors cite the vaccine kerfuffle as evidence of misinformation gone wild. But as I always like to say, had 54,000 members of the American Academy of Pediatrics created even a little bit of content and joined the conversation over vaccines and autism a decade ago, we would have ruled the search engines. So I put the responsibility of this crisis on the shoulders of all of those physicians who failed to participate in the public dialog over vaccine safety.

Social engagement saves careers

While the hive has the capacity to create medical misinformation, it similarly can serve as an important prepublication check. A good example is the emerging interest in preprint servers that allow authors to post a manuscript for input prior to formal peer review. Social review in this case would have easily identified the author’s proposed solution as magical groupthink. And for academics publishing in the realm of new media, I might suggest that you seek out review from a colleague with domain experience.

Ultimately this is an important editorial. It raises the question: Is medical misinformation the price we pay for the democratization of information?

Perhaps more importantly: Would you let these esteemed journal editors decide whether your ideas or information are worthy of social sharing?

I’ll leave that to the hive.

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