Monday, November 4, 2013

Snake Oil and Social Media

Yesterday on Facebook a friend posted an article about dentistry which basically equated a common dental procedure with cancer ("97% of cancer patients have had this procedure done"), and many other ailments, not to mention possible death. The article claimed to have information "your dentist wont tell you" or "your dentist doesn't know." Despite the fact that the article tried to lead you to use one of their own resources (a website which preys on your old fear of dentists in a whole new way to make money, no doubt) there were multiple responses to this article jumping to the conclusion that this information must be right and yes, dentist are all money grubbers trying to dupe their patients into harmful care for MONEY.

I found the article so inflammatory at first I wanted to share the link. But in doing so, unfortunately, it may lend a larger audience to patients/friends/family/unsuspecting citizens who buy into the sensational dogma of this author-less source (I couldn't seem to figure out who wrote the article! Red flag?). If you really must see it (my dental colleagues I am sure would get a good range of emotions from laughter, disbelief, and frustration out of it), let me know and I can send you the link.

With the connectedness of social media and the internet, anyone with an opinion can find a platform to share their voice on any subject. This can be great! Here I am, partaking in this phenomenon. But when it is used to spread fear, unsubstantiated claims, and quack science, I find it rather unsettling. There seems already to be a large distrust of doctors (I'm including dentists in here, or maybe especially dentists in here) and I find it very sad the number of people who are willing to discount the recommendations of their (hopefully) caring doctor with science and medical societies and years of educational training on their side, for sometimes the advice of harmful vendors selling snake oil and false hopes. I am not meaning to say that there aren't alternative remedies or solutions in health care, and yes, we as health care providers often gloss over these and don't give them the merit they perhaps deserve. But for some reason patients seem much more apt to spend money (and lots of it!) chasing the cure-all remedy that cures not only the common cold but also cancer and acne and uses "science" to prove it while dismissing research and common medical practice from real physicians, researchers, and respected journals as some kind of conspiracy.

I think we all as medical/dental providers have experienced interactions with patients where they chose to disregard sound medical advice due to misinformation. There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing these patients choose to put their health at jeopardy based on faulty information often riddled with fear and sales tactics.

I know I am opening myself up to be misunderstood. I agree there are a lot of things we as health care providers don't understand. There are a lot of remedies we don't understand (accupuncture is one I'm interested in trying myself). But before you decide your metal fillings are causing your ailments or that you should stop taking your blood pressure medicine, please consult your doctor. It can be confusing as opinions vary widely among doctors as well. And I'm not naive enough to believe that all doctors really are compassionate and honest. But I hope you can find a provider you can trust to help you make decisions that are best for you. Or at least trust them enough to include them in the conversation. Ask questions. Get a second opinion. And then decide.

If you decide the alternative is right for you, at least you have the information you need to make an educated decision. Not just one based off fear or misinformation.

And maybe, just maybe, consider the peddler of the remedy may have your best interest at heart less than your doc.

1 comment:

Camber said...

Hear hear! Thanks for this. It's frustrating how medical professionals get pulled into conspiracy theories. It's also frustrating to watch a lot of quackery flourish by doing the very thing they accuse health professionals of--trying to make money by "deluding" the public. I had a patient once that died of an incredibly curable cancer because his wife convinced him to skip chemo and get alternative treatments instead. So sad. Alternative medicine definitely has its place, but should be held to the same standards of clinical research and testing as more conventional treatments.