Do Medical Institutions and Organizations Have Their Physicians’ Backs Online?

Do Medical Institutions and Organizations Have Their Physicians’ Backs Online?

[David Epstein, MD, discusses how medical professionals may not feel supported by their medical or healthcare institution or organization when engaging in the fight against medical misinformation online.]

The intersection of social media and healthcare is not new to me.

I previously wrote an article about why physicians need to be present on social media.

Nevertheless, a colleague recently directed me to an interesting article from the New York Times, “TikTok Is Flooded with Health Myths. These Creators Are Pushing Back”, which made me think a bit more about the connection between social media and medicine.

The article reiterated the fact that there is a tremendous amount of medical and health-related misinformation and pseudoscience on social media that needs to be debunked by qualified, licensed medical professionals. It emphasized the importance of why medical professionals need to engage on social media, but also mentioned the toll that engaging on social media had on medical professionals.


There were a couple of statements in the article that made me pause and reflect.

The article stated, “For health care professionals, harassment can also lead to professional consequences, or the fear of them. “Many people’s institutions don’t want them to be attracting tons of negative attention,” said Renée DiResta, a misinformation expert and the technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, which studies internet propaganda.”
It also mentioned that, “Mr. Dhahir considered quitting TikTok after users found the address of his pharmacy and spread rumors about his professional and personal lives. He also had to meet with the dean of medicine at the University of Sydney and explain why the university had received complaints. Mr. Dhahir said he felt supported by his university but worried that that could change quickly.”

As medical professionals attempt to reach out and teach their community accurate medical information, the idea that they should feel alone, abandoned, or not supported by their affiliated medical institutions or organizations is disheartening.

If you haven’t met with resistance, harassment, or negative comments on social media while communicating medically accurate information and dispelling inaccurate medical information, you haven’t been advocating hard enough or stepping into arenas that require the most attention.
I understand that medical institutions and organizations have their reputations to protect. But if an individual is willing to put their reputation and safety on the line for the good of society, they should be supported by their medical institution or organization.
The larger medical collective is not just about research, clinical care, and teaching medical professionals, it really is about educating and supporting the community as well. Actively educating and supporting the community means showing up where the community congregates.

More traditional venues, like health fairs, community seminars, and sponsored events, for community engagement are more widely accepted by medical institutions and organizations.

However, these traditional venues are much less impactful and not where a majority of the community congregates.
The community gathers online now more than ever with traditional venues, mentioned previously, as a remnant of the past. Social media and online communities are much more powerful at disseminating information.
The spreaders of misinformation and pseudoscience have known this for a while and have taken full advantage of digital communication.
Medical institutions and organizations are miles behind and need to catch up.
Any attempt to educate or support the community without showing up online or on social media is just an empty gesture on behalf of the medical institution or organization.

I do see organizations such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Kaiser Family Foundation, local health departments, and other health agencies, advocating for medically accurate and truthful healthcare content.

However, the torrent of medical and healthcare misinformation and pseudoscience is immense.
The World Health Organization and other healthcare institutions have recognized the widespread misinformation problem and note that on “some social media platforms, falsehoods are 70% more likely to get shared than accurate news.

Medical institutions and organizations need to support their staff engagement online to spread accurate medical and health information.

Social media and the world online are not just a form of entertainment.
They are a form of contemporary communication and a gathering place for much of the world’s population.
No credible medical professional should be silenced by their institution or organization for fear of “rocking the boat” or bringing undue attention from broadcasters of medical misinformation and pseudoscience. In fact, the pillars of the medical and healthcare community should be organizing their own teams of online medical advocates to join the ongoing battle to protect the integrity of accurate medical and health information online.
In the end, the reputations of medical institutions and organizations will be tarnished more by what they ignore in the fight against medical information and pseudoscience or how they suppress their medical professionals’ advocacy efforts online than what they do to fight for medical truth and how they have their medical professionals’ backs.
As a medical professional, have you felt supported by your medical institution or organization in the fight against misinformation and pseudoscience online and on social media? Please feel free to comment on social media and tag @SoMeDocs. We will re-share your thoughts.

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