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Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Verify Healthcare: Ending Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

In late September, Medscape's Instagram account was handed over to a team of doctors behind the #VerifyHealthcare movement. The campaign was created in response to people dispensing medical information on social media. Because this can be dangerous, the doctors involved in #VerifyHealthcare want everyone to ask appropriate questions, check qualifications, and know the expertise of anyone offering medical advice or information before they act on it.

Over the course of a day, doctors shared their stories and opinions on Medscape's Instagram account about the importance of thoughtfully approaching medical content on social media. Here is what they had to say.

Image courtesy of Ash Soni, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Ash Soni, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is IMPERATIVE.

My name is Dr Ash Soni, and I am a chief resident in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Washington in Seattle (@dr.ashsoni).

#VerifyHealthcare is a campaign and movement that is designed to increase transparency in the medical community, including all healthcare providers. The increased presence of providers on Instagram and social media has led to misinformation and sometimes misrepresentation. We want to highlight the training of various professionals in order for the public to get accurate and honest information, which is vital in today's world of social media. Join the revolution!

Image courtesy of Pamela Mehta, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Pamela Mehta, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is about TRANSPARENCY.

Hi, all. I am Dr Pamela Mehta and I am a board-certified orthopedic surgeon. I started and run my own private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I treat most musculoskeletal conditions related to the shoulder, knee, hip, and hands. I am passionate about getting my patients back to their active lifestyles through joint preservation and, if need be, surgery.

Outside of medicine, I am married to the love of my life, who happens to be an orthopedic (spine) surgeon as well. We enjoy spending time with our two boys exploring the outdoors. I love to mentor students and empower young women to achieve their goals when it comes to having a fulfilling career and a family.

The #VerifyHealthcare movement is so incredibly important as more and more people are turning to social media for information. As healthcare professionals, we need to hold ourselves to the highest of standards when it comes to communicating information and being a resource to our patients and the general public. Transparency is necessary in this goal. We need to be open about who we are, where we have trained, and what expertise we have.

I think the future of healthcare and social media is going to be so incredibly powerful, but let's do this the right way, through transparency, accountability, responsibility, and honesty.

Image courtesy of Joyce Park, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Joyce Park, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is about SAFETY.

Hi, everyone! My name is Dr Joyce Park, and I am a board-certified dermatologist. I am interested in medical journalism, having worked in the medical units of ABC News, NBC News, and the press office of the World Health Organization (WHO). Out of all forms of media, I am most fascinated by and passionate about social media, the media outlet created and heavily consumed by this generation. Through my blog teawithmd.com, I aim to educate about beauty and skincare through a medical lens, and help others interested in building a career in medicine.

Research shows that many Americans look for health info on social media, and social media influences their decision to seek care. That is a big deal! Social media is no longer just for liking selfies. People are turning to platforms like Instagram for medical info. But with an abundance of knowledge available, it can be tough to determine whom to trust. Instagram popularity doesn't automatically equate with good doctoring.

#VerifyHealthcare is important to me because your safety is important to me. You should know the qualifications of the medical professionals you learn from on social media, just as you should know credentials of doctors you see in real life. By being transparent about who we are, you can make an educated choice about who you trust. Let's keep the conversation going!

Image courtesy of Alok Patel, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Alok Patel, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is TENACITY.

I'm Dr Alok Patel, and I'm a pediatrician in New York City and California. It's on all of us to defend public health and evidence-based guidelines. While we're at it, let's kick pseudoscience in the face.

It's on all of us: doctors, nurses, researchers, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, physician assistants, and techs. We all form an integral healthcare team, and it's up to all of us to rely on our expertise and individual training to make sure the public gets solid information, backed by science. From nutrition to injury prevention to immunization to access to addiction to mental health, we need to collectively use our superpowers to spread awareness and help empower the masses.

In our social media–obsessed world, anyone can be an "expert," all while politicians govern health policy and celebrities sway opinion on health trends. We need to be louder. Stand up with #VerifyHealthcare and stand on the side of science. Do it for the kids.

Image courtesy of Ali Haider, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Ali Haider, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is EDUCATION.

What's up, everyone? I'm Dr Ali Haider, an attending interventional cardiologist.

People are always looking to learn, find information, and educate themselves online. In many ways, social media is becoming a platform that is competing with the traditional Internet search engine in a more fun and interactive way for this purpose. Particularly, the number of people seeking medical information in this way is growing.

Remember how Facebook grew from just college kids sharing photos to a global entity that influences even politics? Now Instagram has grown beyond just a photo-sharing app to a popular source of information, education, and influence. When is it wrong to know your source, whether it's for travel tips, beauty tips, or medical education?

Social media is not a platform for medical advice; that's what your doctor is for. But I, like others, try to teach those out there about what I know and try to learn from them just the same. Knowing the source of information is always key in validating it! In medicine, this includes everyone from docs to nurses, from students to technicians, nutritionists to pharmacists—the list goes on. So, search, learn, and remember—do your homework!

Image courtesy of Earl Campbell III, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Earl Campbell III, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is PROGRESS.

My name is Dr Earl Campbell III, and I am a third-year gastroenterology and hepatology fellow. The way information is delivered is changing, and social media has become an invaluable tool. Change directed appropriately leads to progress. This campaign is evidence that when it comes to information delivery, the field of medicine is not only changing but making progress. Remember, you must keep making progress so that you don't regress.

Image courtesy of Daniel Choi, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Daniel Choi, MD

#VerifyHealthcare to me, is PATIENT EMPOWERMENT.

Hello. My name is Dr Daniel Choi and I am a fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon. Today, most people are Googling their medical condition, treatment options, and physicians. Almost daily, I am asked about a special spine procedure, injection, or back brace that my patients have heard about online. I applaud and appreciate my patients who do their homework but know that many are overwhelmed trying to navigate the sheer volume of medical content out there.

On social media, anyone can post anything and say anything. That's the beauty of social media: harnessing the power of creative crowdsourcing. Unfortunately, unsuspecting patients take medical online information at face value and make healthcare decisions whether or not this information is from a reputable source or backed by scientific studies.

As physicians, we take an oath to "do no harm." And as an orthopedic surgeon, I will not tell you which prenatal vitamins are best or what your child's vaccine schedule should be. I stick with helping my patients with their back, neck, and spine health because that is what I spent years and tens of thousands of clinical hours training to do in residency and fellowship.

The #VerifyHealthcare campaign started out with many of us listing our credentials. Training matters. It really does. The degrees that my physician, nursing, PA, NP, dental, and physical therapy colleagues in all healthcare fields earned matter. They are not just pieces of paper that we hang on the wall. They represent tens of thousands of hours learning the scientific method, physiology, anatomy; treating patients in the clinic, ED, trauma bay, and OR under supervision to be able to provide safe and effective care one day.

Through #VerifyHealthcare, our hope is to start having a discussion on what we can do to improve transparency of medical content sources online, and to help empower our patients by guiding them on how to verify their sources for healthcare info.

Image courtesy of Anita Patel, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Anita Patel, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is RESEARCH.

As a young pediatric critical care attending and assistant professor of pediatrics at a top 5 children's hospital, research represents the foundation and motivating force in my own life and what I believe is the backbone of the campaign.

The #VerifyHealthcare movement was born from the burgeoning need for the dissemination of accurate knowledge on social media. More than 50% of patients are using social media as their primary source of medical information, whether we, as healthcare providers, like it or not. This campaign seeks to promote transparency in healthcare professionals on social media. As part of this, we encourage doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and so on to share their credentials with their followers so that followers could make an informed decision, and ultimately provide more data points for researching the healthcare professionals they follow online.

In my own life, research has guided my career decisions at every step of the way. When I was a pediatric resident, my mentor told me the single phrase that would ultimately define my career: "We all have a responsibility to leave the field of pediatric critical care just a little bit better than when we entered it." It was after that moment that research took on a very personal place in my heart. I suddenly saw how, in helping develop and validate a pediatric delirium screening tool with my mentor, we were immediately improving patient care.

This research may have won me a top prize at the Society for Critical Care Medicine, but the true and enduring outcome of this research was instilling in me a hunger to do more. A hunger to dynamically improve patient care in a field that actually doesn't have many evidence-based practices (despite the high stakes of pediatric critical care). And this brings me to today. I am devoted to a career in academic medicine, and was recently awarded my first National Institute of Health (NIH) grant to pursue my research in the administration of sedation and analgesia to critically ill children. Research is powerful. Research is hard. Research is what moves the field of medicine forward, and look how far we have come!

Image courtesy of Grace Peng, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Grace Peng, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, means INTEGRITY. Integrity to my patients, to my colleagues, and to my profession.

Hi. I'm Dr Grace Peng. Just as important as choosing your physician and surgeon is understanding the tests and procedures you may undergo and the process, including the pre- and postprocedural expectations. Integrity is being transparent about risks, benefits, and alternatives to any given procedure or surgery. It means being realistic about results and recommending what is needed.

Integrity is making sure that I am up-to-date on the newest technologies and procedures to ensure the best patient care. I also love teaching and speaking at conferences for the areas that I specialize in, to share knowledge among providers. Collectively, we can elevate our ability to provide options for care. Integrity is also understanding the limits and scope of my practice, and refusing to compromise quality of care.

As social media becomes more prevalent in healthcare, maintaining our integrity will preserve the true intent of medicine.

Image courtesy of Kathryn Rubey, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Kathryn Rubey, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is BALANCE.

I'm Kate, a second-year neonatology fellow. #VerifyHealthcare is important to me, because just like every other facet of life, this is about balance. Yep, medical training is about balance. And Instagram is about balance too. You should be getting the content you want, from people with the training to back up what they're sharing.

What does this mean? It means that I want you to know where I am in my training when I teach about neonatology topics. When I give medical school/residency advice, it comes from my perspective because I have been through it. Life advice? We're all going to have to figure that one out together! And it means that most days I would much rather talk about wellness and work-life balance than traditional "medical" topics, because we all spend enough time at work. Instagram should be at least a little fun.

Medical training and working in the medical field is hard work and has a ridiculously high rate of burnout, which is why it's important to take care of yourself and also each other. Follow along at @drkater for baby facts, life in training, and the work-life balance.

Image courtesy of Dagny Zhu, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Dagny Zhu, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is EVOLUTION.

The way that the public consumes health information has changed. Academic guidelines, peer-reviewed articles, and medical consultations are increasingly being replaced by Reddit, YouTube, and Google. As a board-certified ophthalmologist and cornea/refractive surgeon, I have struggled to convince patients that marijuana is not an effective treatment for glaucoma. It has been an uphill battle at times.

Is the solution, then, to ban all medical information from social media? Absolutely not. On the contrary, now is the perfect time for physicians and healthcare providers to adapt to this changing "med-scape." Social media should never be used as a platform for medical advice, but it can be used as a powerful tool for evidence-based medical education. A failure to recognize the power of social media is to accept stagnation while the rest of the world marches into the future.

Image courtesy of Rupa Wong, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Rupa Wong, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is COLLABORATION.

My name is Dr Rupa Wong. I'm a board-certified ophthalmologist with fellowship training in pediatric ophthalmology and adult strabismus. I have been in private practice in Hawaii for the past 10 years.

In real life, as a pediatric ophthalmologist, I depend so much on collaboration with others—NICU attendings, nurses, general pediatricians, social workers, ophthalmic techs—to deliver quality healthcare to my patients. We all do. We learn from each other, we grow, we care for the patients the best we can. The same applies for social media. It is a collaboration of people from different specialties across the world.

I finished my fellowship training 11 years ago. In private practice, of course you read and keep up with literature in your own field, but you do lose touch with advances in fields other than your own. You get caught up dealing with just eyes, and even more specifically, just eye muscles or pediatric eyes (if you're peds ophtho/adult strabismus, like me). I love learning about the latest in other fields via social media because I don't have time (or the inclination) to read journals in other specialties. I want a snapshot, like most of you.

In this past week alone, I learned from @brianjovesmd's post on deep brain stimulation via neuromodulators, which is helpful since I see Parkinson's patients with strabismus. I also collaborated with another ophthalmologist I met on Instagram, @dzeyemd, regarding ocular oncologists on the West Coast. (Because I'm East Coast–trained, almost all of my connections are from New York, Boston, or Philadelphia.)

That's what #VerifyHealthcare is about to me. Because if I'm using social media for these purposes, then others are too, and it's nice to know where I'm getting my information.

Image courtesy of Sonia Bahlani, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Sonia Bahlani, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, for me, is ACCOUNTABILITY.

My name is Dr Sonia Bahlani and I am a pelvic pain specialist. The Internet and social media have created an interesting time for people of all generations. Having access to unfiltered information with the click of a few buttons carries the potential to change lives.

Why? Social media has evolved into a powerful platform. Having access to evidence-based, accurate, well-thought-out information is a platform upon which we can build public health awareness, modalities for patient education, and ultimately influence lifestyle choices to ensure a healthier, more informed population. With this in mind, it is important for all providers to offer transparency in their opinions in who they are and what they stand for so that we can all make informed decisions.

As a pelvic pain specialist with a passion for clinical medicine and a focus on basic science and clinical research, it's important for me to be an advocate for those suffering by dispelling myths, using scientific knowledge. As healthcare providers, our oath to medicine states "do no harm." In a time where misinformation can in fact be harmful, it's important to #VerifyHealthcare. I'd like to encourage you to do the same!

Image courtesy of Natalie Crawford, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Natalie Crawford, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is EMPOWERMENT.

I am Dr Natalie Crawford and I am a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and infertility physician. Social media not only provides a place for community and inspiration, but it can also be a place for learning. Knowledge is powerful. We can empower ourselves by learning about the world around us.

Although I don't believe in providing medical advice on a social platform, I do advocate for learning about your body and your health. Social media can be a source for medical information, knowledge, and empowerment. However, it is up to you to understand the source of this information. I believe that healthcare providers who choose to show their world on social media need to be transparent about who they are and empower each other and the public by speaking the truth.

As an infertility physician, I am passionate about educating women on natural fertility, fertility awareness, and helping to break the stigmas associated with infertility.

Image courtesy of Austin Chiang, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Austin Chiang, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is JUST THE BEGINNING.

My name is Dr Austin Chiang, and I am a triple-board-certified gastroenterologist in Philadelphia, specializing in interventional gastroenterology (ie, advanced endoscopy) and endoscopic weight loss therapies.

Two weeks ago, I invited several colleagues in various roles and fields to join me in starting the discussion about transparency among health professionals on social media. Gone are the days when social media was simply a photo album; today, it has become a catalyst of social and political change. Health "influencers" can similarly influence public health and shape public opinion of healthcare.

This hashtag campaign is only the start. Now, we urge you to join the conversation to defend evidence-based science and protect yourself by looking into who you trust online for health knowledge.

Image courtesy of Erich G. Anderer, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Erich G. Anderer, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is about GETTING WITH THE TIMES.

I'm about a decade into a neurosurgery practice and I'm the chief of service where I am, so I'm a little older than most in the Instagram demographic. I feel like I trained during the pivot out of the bad old days, and social media is relatively new to me. People can be as skeptical as they want (as they often are with new technology and techniques), but more and more people will be looking to social media for medical info. Yes, Instagram is largely a playground for narcissists and self-validators, but people also seek advice there. So we in the healthcare community owe it to them to have our perspective be transparent and understood.

For example, I may not be the best person to give advice about Step I, since I took it almost 20 years ago. But if you want to talk to me about neurosurgery, getting into residency, what board certification means, the direction I see healthcare taking in a macro sense, and so on, I may be able to help. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and everyone's perspective is valid, so long as it's understood. This movement is about everyone, and we invite anyone that wants to participate to do so!

The other thing I love about social media is its quick and efficient reach. On my own account, I talk about my interests in nonsurgical ways to treat spine pain. No, I'm not trying to put myself out of business. The other thing I'm a strong believer in is taking action outside your job to help others. Currently, I'm working with @godslovenyc on a project to add to the mounting scientific evidence that #foodismedicine. Virtue signaling? Maybe. If it spurs more people to action, I'll take it.

Image courtesy of Danielle Jones, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Danielle Jones, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is TEACHING...responsibly!

I'm currently a practicing ob/gyn physician. There is so much valuable information to be learned on the Internet/social media. As students, patients, and healthcare providers, you deserve to know where it's coming from! Everyone has something important to teach you, but responsible teaching requires the learner to have an understanding of the motivation and training their teacher has.

There's a bunch of crazy stuff on the Internet, and we hope this campaign makes it easier to decipher who is telling you good and bad info. And, importantly, because I think everyone has something valuable to say, we want to include everyone in this campaign for transparency. The more you know, the better informed you are to make decisions for yourself and your family.

Image courtesy of Brian Joves, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Brian Joves, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is THE FUTURE.

We already know that many people get health and medical advice from social media, and that number isn't likely to decrease any time soon. We've all talked to friends, colleagues, or patients who saw a video about "this amazing product" on Facebook, diagnosed their symptoms from someone's post on Instagram, or got in a deep discussion about their health with people on Twitter.

Society has continuously changed the primary medium by which information is exchanged. In the past 60 years, we have transitioned from radio to broadcast television to cable to the Internet. Each medium has allowed for new sources of information. Now as we transition to social media as a primary means of information transfer, it is our responsibility as healthcare providers (societies, journals, and individual practitioners) to meet the public where they are.

In healthcare, medicine in particular, we romanticize the past. We put "the old way," "the way I trained," the "real way" on a pedestal. But really, it's very simple. We owe it to the public to provide them with evidence-based information and education in a context and location that they can interact with. #VerifyHealthcare is just a start, but we invite everyone to join in this discussion and transition.

Image courtesy of Leslie Kim, MD, MPH

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Leslie Kim, MD, MPH

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY.

I'm Dr Leslie Kim and I am a dual-board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon. Social responsibility calls for every individual and organization who has the ability to effect change and the power to contribute to act. At its core, it requires accountability, transparency, and authenticity. As healthcare professionals, this is our obligation—to impact others beyond profits and popularity, to protect and promote not just the health of our patients, but health information as a whole. I love being a part of this campaign which calls all of us to act: to inspire, empower, and create a foundation of trust in the health information available on social media.

In aesthetic medicine in particular, many seek advice and rely on easily accessible information found online. We encourage you to make informed choices and vet all of your providers and treatment options. Because in this digital age, we should do more than take everything for face value.

Image courtesy of Cedrick Rutland, MD

Fighting Bad Medical Advice on Social Media

Ryan Syrek, MA; Liz Neporent | October 11, 2018 | Contributor Information

Cedric "Jamie" Rutland, MD

#VerifyHealthcare, to me, is DIVERSITY.

I'm Dr Cedric "Jamie" Rutland and I am a triple-board-certified pulmonary critical care doctor. I am both excited and grateful to be given this platform to share our mission for #VerifyHealthcare.

Diversity: Yes, this is a discussion about race. It is about religion, sexual orientation, and gender. It is about socioeconomic status, geographical areas, and language differences. We seek to diversify in ways that go even deeper. We represent the band player, the sneaker-head (like me), the yoga teacher, the extrovert, the introvert, the introverted extrovert, the extroverted introvert, and so many more.

This #VerifyHealthcare campaign is about diversifying our own character by saturating ourselves with people who come from an array of experiences, places, and interests. It is about combining the ideas of various medical professionals with a mixture of medical interests. It is a multicultural group of diverse personalities finding commonality and a goal, and coming together to establish social media as a legitimate space for healthcare learning.

If you'd like to learn more about the medical journey, battling obstacles, doctor and dad life, or maybe just my shoe obsession, follow me @drjrutland.


Training Doctors to Draw

Dr Francois Luks leads an undergraduate class called 'Physician as Illustrator,' designed to help future doctors better communicate with patients via illustrations. Here is some of his students' work.Medscape Features Slideshows, July 2018
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