Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

Is Social Media to Be Trusted for Health Information?

The Internet is an incredible wealth of information, not all of it truly scientific or health-promoting, but it can prove a quick way to garner details on health matters.

Each day, 20–30 billion text messages, or 41 million a minute, are sent worldwide, and that number can only increase as access to cell phones increases. And 6.65 billion people now are estimated to have cell phones making this form of communication our primary information-processing-communication medium.

Almost three billion people now use messaging apps, which will also rise. Much of this lucrative marketing information is in selling products or services, not simply messaging among friends. How much of the information related to healthcare transferred over our cells and our computers is accurate? And should we be skeptical of all of it?

Less than a decade ago, when the Internet was still in its explosive growth stage, any patient who went into a physician’s office and asked about material found on the Internet might not have received a warm welcome. The response while looking askance would have been something like, “Oh, you consulted Dr. Internet or Dr. Wikipedia?

In my experience, there was little to no room for consideration of such health information, even from reputable sources. Were the physicians fearful of losing status or concerned about faulty healthcare facts? Perhaps it was a little of both.

Concerns regarding misinformation of health information on the Internet are being raised in the professional literature. Studies are beginning to investigate how professionals intend to correct health misinformation on social media by using various methods such as private and public conversations and private and public rebuttals using social media. If the media is the message, to quasi-quote Marshall McLuhanthat’s where the message must reside.

And the quantity of health misinformation may be shocking to some. The prevalence of health misinformation was the highest on Twitter and on issues related to smoking products and drugs. However, misinformation on major public health issues, such as vaccines and diseases, was also high.

One of the significant obstacles to countering this health misinformation is the enormous quantity of material that must be assessed and the methods to correct it. Should we depend on healthcare watchdogs that have this one task as their mission, or should all consumers be active in the pursuit of truth? But what is truth to one is abhorrent to another whose beliefs do not meet our standards. This, then, is where one of our most significant duties lies; correcting misinformation.

The World Health Information, when considering misinformation on Covid-19 and vaccines, recognized the enormity and seriousness of the problem. A double-edged sword faces all healthcare. As WHO indicated…technology and social media are being used on a massive scale to keep people safe, informed, productive, and connected. At the same time, the technology we rely on to keep connected and informed is enabling and amplifying an infodemic that continues to undermine the global response and jeopardizes measures to control the pandemic. But social media is also aimed at ALL health and healthcare activities and products and isn’t limited to vaccines.

We are faced with a situation that requires governments, healthcare organizations, politicians, and psychologists to enlist all their resources to provide health information correctly. But when we have social media activities creating an environment of fear and disbelief, how do we handle it?

If we attempt to stifle the voices, we are seen as against the free dissemination of information and free speech or backward thinking. Stepping up with correct information can also be seen by non-believers as a campaign of disinformation in the service of individual corporate and political goals around control and profit.

The United Nations in 2020 did begin an effort toward providing health information in a disinformation war. A grassroots initiative was established and they stated its aim as follows: The initiative is calling on people around the world to sign up to become “information volunteers” to share trusted content to keep their families and communities safe and connected. Described as digital-first responders, the volunteers will receive a daily feed of verified content optimized for social sharing with simple, compelling messaging that either directly counters misinformation or fills an information void.

How many of us are aware of this effort two years into this project, and is it mainly directed toward third-world nations? I hadn’t seen any media on it. I was unaware of the group action called Purpose and its collaboration with major corporations. Not solely an effort against healthcare misinformation, the group’s efforts are comprehensive in scope and work toward creating safe, healthy environments for all worldwide.

We must learn to evaluate healthcare information and not swallow it whole as anyone presents. You have resources at your disposal, and you need to use them. When you hear something about an illness, medication, or procedure, search for information on healthcare and use multiple sources.

When you read about research, what questions should you ask? How about who funded ithow many patients were involved, and what did it do regarding what they set out to research?

Confining your efforts to one source (and Wikipedia is not THE source) is insufficient. You have an obligation to your health and that of those in your immediate group and your country to ensure information is being adequately verified.

How many of you know that, at one time, cocaine was in cigarettes and soda and considered an excellent medication for sore throats and one way to escape from the clutches of morphine addiction? Freud, physicians, and even a Pope used cocaine for their ills or anxiety. Freud did write about his adventures with cocaine. If he had only had access to more information and less ego, perhaps Emma would not have almost died from his nasal surgery for her masturbation.

Questioning is a good thing. Keep that thought in mind whenever you’re confronted with a healthcare situation.

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Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

DR PATRICIA FARRELL

Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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