Social Media and Medicine: Can We Compete?

August 8, 2014
Melissa Young, MD

Online support groups, YouTube videos on injection technique, healthy lifestyle sites--good patient information abounds on the Web. But so do the bad and the ugly. I try to help my patients discriminate; I'm not always successful.

I recently attended a lecture on social media and the practice of medicine. It was very interesting. Clearly, there are advantages. Patients can reach out to support groups, can watch YouTube videos on how to inject medications, and can learn about healthy lifestyle changes.

There are disadvantages, too, the most glaring one being the glut of misinformation that is available. And maybe I’m biased, but it seems to me that there is way too much endocrine-related misinformation out there.

There are pop-up ads about thyroid and adrenal supplements. There are bloggers, whose anecdotes are mistaken for scientific evidence. I don’t know how many times a day patients tell me that they’ve done their research, and they found sites that advocate using “natural” thyroid products. They have also found writers (and TV doctors) who say that the thyroid blood tests don’t mean anything and that patients should be treated based on their symptoms (with dried animal thyroid, of course). There are also those who are certain they have “adrenal fatigue.”

I direct patients to the Hormone Foundation’s website, Hormone Health Network. I also print out some of the site’s patient education material. They have a great handout on medications for hypothyroidism-why levothyroxine instead of animal thyroid products, why brand name versus generic drugs, etc. They have a good “Myth vs Fact” sheet on adrenal fatigue. I also encourage them to go to the Websites of the American Diabetes Association, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American Thyroid Association, and The Endocrine Society. I hope that they see that my recommendations are not just personal opinion but are based on guidelines that are in turn based on current scientific data. Minds much greater than my own have come together to analyze the data and create recommendations.

Of course, some patients will continue to believe what they find on Facebook and on blogs because they don’t feel as well as they think they should and in these venues they find others like themselves. I tell them that all I can do is offer recommendations. If they disagree, they are free to seek advice elsewhere. I also ask them what they think I have to gain from “holding back” on them. If I thought there was any benefit and no harm to their requests, why wouldn’t I put them on the medication they request or perform the test they want? 

As another author once wrote, information is not knowledge. There is much of both on the Web, but it can be difficult for patients to tell the difference.


How do you manage Internet misinformation in your practice?

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