I have become over the last 18 months fairly familiar with social media. I have a Facebook page, both personal and for my business, a twitter account, a google + (though they don’t think I know enough people), a business web page (though it needs help), am on Linked In and obviously have started blogging. So I think i that I have a pretty good grasp on social media. What I cannot understand is the number of people who seek medical advice off of Facebook.
I am not saying that they were asking if they thought something was worrisome, or if maybe they should seek help, but full out advice from a majority of people who are not physicians, and many who do not work in the medical field. I don’t know how many people know the people they are seeking advice from, if you are like me, you have “friends” that you have never actually met, but maybe on a page or something struck up a conversation, or maybe in one of the countless games you friended, but know nothing else about them.
Anyway, my concerns are more from the medical prospective. I will give an example of something that I am seeing even more frequently, a “friend” of mine (who I do in this case know in real life) said something about being tired and cold all the time, and she was going to see her doctor tomorrow. One of her friends (who I don’t know, but assume that they are not a physician based on their comment) said “You need a thyroid test, but don’t let them get by with the screening test, it won’t be accurate because my uncle had thyroid and his first test was normal, but he made the doctor do more tests and his levels were actually low. This type of thyroid does not show up.”
While it is probably legitimate to ask if it could be a thyroid, it probably should even be ruled out, there might be something else going on other than thyroid. And if you were to tell your doctor, “my friend on Facebook thinks that my thyroid is not working, but don’t do the standard test.” they will probably ignore everything you said after “my friend on Facebook.” And while I would hope they would work you up based on symptoms, your insistence on a particular test based on Facebook opinion may result in a large bill, that your insurance may not cover because it was not warranted.
The other concern about taking medical advice over the internet is the amount of herbal and vitamins people seem to advocate taking. For most people a multivitamin is probably not a bad idea, especially if they are cutting calories or have some chronic condition. However, not all vitamins are benign. You take too much Vitamin C- well you are probably urinating expensive vitamins, but new studies are showing overdoses of Vitamin E may increase the risk of strokes, and I have seen cases where the overdosage of B12 causing symptoms that mimic a deficiency in B12. Not to mention all the herbals that might interact with medication that they are on.
Rarely, due to liability concerns will you see a physician giving any advice on these sites. I will to a few select people, and most of the time it is in personal messages, but occasionally on their page. I gave my cousin advice one day on his page, only to see a while later, someone else say almost exactly the opposite. And in this instance, while their advice wouldn’t have hurt the child, it would not help him either.
I do however find it amazing the amount of bad advice out there. People speak out against the evils of Big Pharma, and while I don’t believe that they are producing their products solely out of the good of their hearts, they would rather keep you alive for repeat business, and at least have to meet standards. These same people love to speak about the greatness of the herbal industry and how they are good, ignoring that as an industry they received almost as much revenue as big Pharma last year. And while there are good and ethical companies out there, their products are labeled as “food stuff” by the FDA and you cannot always be sure that you are getting what you are paying for. And should a company not have what it claims, they are prosecuted under the deceit in advertising for all but the most malicious of offenders.
While I fully understand you can choose who you wish for you medical advice, but remember your physician went to 4 years of medical school, at least 3 years of residency, and spends countless hours a year reading journal and going to conferences in an attempt to be up to date in the latest medical knowledge and treatments. Compare that education to your “friend” whom you may or may not know. And remember in many cases free advice is worth what you paid for it.