Should healthcare professionals avoid participating in social media because some online health information is inaccurate?

I was on a conference call with a leader of Sharecare recently. She quoted a statistic saying that 86% of health information online is inaccurate or misleading. I honestly don’t know if that fact is true or not (it seems high to me), but it helps me make an important point.

I’ve worked with several doctors over the years who cringe every time a patient comes into the clinic with information printed from the Internet. They assume that these patients found some obscure websites that post absurd information. The physicians would have to spend a lot of time dispelling these misleading claims. Then they blame the Internet and discourage people from looking online for health-related content.

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Even if the 86% statistic is correct, I would argue just the opposite. We certainly need more accurate health content online. There is no better way to ensure that the content has merit than to have more qualified healthcare professionals active on social media.

We are the ones who went to medical school and hold board certifications. We went to pharmacy school, physical therapy school, and nursing school. We are the ones who have treated thousands of patients. We perform the research. We read the journals.
Doctor using an iPad to look up information
We have the medical knowledge and access to the latest research. We can explain that information in ways that people without that medical background can easily understand.

Part of our duty as healthcare providers is to educate our patients. Social media gives us the opportunity to educate the public in a much larger way.

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Just because some of the health content online is false and misleading doesn’t mean we should avoid social media. Instead, more healthcare providers need to share their messages than ever.