3 examples why health professionals should be online

It was an interesting week to say the least. I was so sorry to hear about the death of 21-year Eloise Parru, who accidentally took an overdose of slimming pills she purchased online. The pills contained a dangerous substance, dinitrophenol or DNP.

The amount of online advertising of drugs and medical devices is overwhelming. Unfortunately buying medications over the internet is a risky business. They can be fake, contain too much or too little of the active ingredient, or they may contain toxic chemicals. There is no doctor or pharmacist to give reliable advice on how to take the drugs and what adverse reactions to look out for.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has an excellent website explaining the risks of buying medications on international websites. My advice: never do it.

Health blogger and founder of a best-selling health app Belle Gibson was a very influential woman – but unfortunately she made things up. In a recent interview she confessed that she never had cancer and wasn’t cured by natural remedies. The media are all over her, and so far she has not apologised for misleading her followers. I wonder what is going on here.

Online health scams are numerous. As the wellness industry is largely unregulated, I’m afraid this will not change.

forced penetration
Image: Sydney Morning Herald

The Australian vaccination skeptics network was in the news again after it compared vaccinations to ‘forced penetration’. A shocking image (see above) was posted on the Facebook page of the anti-vaccination group to convey their controversial message. It has caused a public outrage, which is probably a good thing. I don’t think it has done the group any good.

A while ago I blogged about the 6 warning signs that online health information may be unreliable and as I said before: don’t rely on one source of information and always ask a registered doctor or health professional if you’re not sure.

I believe we need more health professionals and health organisations promoting reliable, evidence-based information in the online space – including social media – to counterbalance the many untrustworthy health messages.

What do you think?

How social media is changing the healthcare landscape

How social media is changing the healthcare landscape
Image: Pixabay.com

There seems to be a significant growth of social media usage in the Australian healthcare industry.

In the past years we have seen surprisingly influential social media campaigns, like AHPRAaction, ScrapTheCap, InternCrisis, and very recently NoAdsPlease. These campaigns not only rally for better health care policies; they also signal a shift towards more transparency and accountability.

Characteristics of the social media campaigns are:

  • They spread quickly and generate a lot of media attention
  • The participants are very passionate about their cause
  • They are often supported by different groups including consumers
  • They may or may not be supported by professional organisations
  • They are very effective.

At the same time other social media movements, like FOAM (free open access medical education) are gaining momentum. Again, these grassroots initiatives are driven by passion – a powerful force. It won’t take long before health care professionals can do their continuing professional education via free social media sources.

I don’t think many professional and health care organisations are ready for these changes – yet they are coming whether we like it or not.

Psychiatrist and blogger Dr Helen Schultz is a social media enthusiast. Helen was involved in the successful AHPRAaction campaign. She believes social media skills are important for doctors: “I feel in the next 6-12 months there will be even more awareness of the need for doctors to know how to use social media professionally, but also how to use it to your advantage, building your brand, your platform and your voice.”

“The time has passed where we can be complacent and think patients will listen to us just because we are doctors,” she says. “We are largely absent from health debates currently, and others educate about health which may not always be necessarily evidenced based. In addition, we must claim our social media real estate, ie own our domain names and twitter handles to prevent others pretending to be us.”

Helen has taken it upon herself to organise a social media workshop for doctors and managers, and she has invited me to speak about blogging. Helen: “On the back of the success of the AHPRAaction campaign – and because I was so inspired by my colleagues around Australia, I thought we had to meet and put our heads together about how doctors can use social media in Australia to join health debates and run really successful campaigns.”

Some excellent speakers presenting at the workshop: Ms Dionne Kasian-Lew, Dr Brad McKay, Ms Jen Morris, Dr Jill Tomlinson, Dr Amit Vohra, Ms Mary Freer, and Dr Marie Bismark. Dr Mukesh Haikerwal is guest of honour.

Social Media by the Sea is a full day interactive workshop with practical tips and insights from the experts about their successful use of social media, whether it be as a blogger, advocate or part of campaign building. Time: Saturday, 15 November 2014. Place: Peppers “The Sands Resort”, Torquay, Victoria. Send email.

Blogging: What do you write when you have nothing to say?

The SoMeGP team was presenting about social media and blogging at the recent GP Education & Training conference (GPET13) in Perth, when this great question came from the audience: “What do you write when you have nothing to say?”

It is a common problem and the fear of every writer and blogger: not knowing where to start. Yet, the medical profession is full of topics to write about. In fact, most doctors, especially GP supervisors, have enough experience to explain a range of topics to patients, registrars, students and staff. It’s just a matter of putting these words in writing.

If you can email, you can blog. But the great thing of online media is that there are many ways to present information: traditional blogs, videos, podcasts, slide shows etc.

Take time to figure out what you want to do with your blog before you begin. Here are some tips to get started:

#1: Write for patients

Debunking myths is always a hit, and (de-identified) questions from our patients are a great place to start: Does hypertension always cause a headache? Is tonsillitis contagious? Can the flu shot cause influenza? Are antibiotics effective against sinusitis? Can Alzheimer’s disease be prevented? Should I have an annual cancer test? Blog about smoking cessation, healthy foods tips, how to perform CPR, etc

#2: Write for colleagues

Most doctors have a passion or field of interest, and sharing this knowledge or skills is fun and much appreciated by many colleagues. GP supervisors could help registrars by blogging about exam preparation, study tips, or asking & answering questions in blogs and online forums, like FOAM4GP.

#3: Write about the profession

Never a dull moment in health care. We have got a wonderful profession, but the ever-changing rules, ‘good ideas’ and intentions by policy makers and the flood of bureaucracy and red tape need to be reviewed and discussed, and blogging is a very effective way to do this. Work-life balance is another ongoing challenge. If you are passionate about a topic, do your research and share it with the world – we want to hear from you!

It sometimes helps to write things down during the day or use one of the many free apps, like Evernote, to collect and organise your thoughts and ideas. The advantage of Evernote is that it captures anything, can be accessed from mobile devices and computers and syncs between them.

And remember, a good blog post doesn’t have to be long: 300-500 words fine. Still in need of inspiration? Have a look at my number 1 blogging tip you should always keep in mind.

Doctors, this is why you should be blogging

Most people today google their health problems. Unfortunately, not all information Doctor Google throws at us is correct. Sometimes online information is downright misleading.

Providing accurate information through blogs and social media platforms is a good way to respond to incorrect online health messages.

Doctors are in a unique position to educate. By sharing knowledge online the public, the health care system and the doctor, will all benefit.

The two reasons why doctors should be blogging are:

  1. Debunking myths: Clarifying the common misunderstandings about health issues.
  2. Sharing information about health, disease and its management.

Advantages 

UK GP Dr Anne Marie Cunningham has a great blog called Wishful thinking in medical education. In this post she mentioned two things she enjoys about blogging:

  • To learn from others via the comments she receives on her blog.
  • To help develop her thought process and “get some way to understanding what has been perplexing me”.

US cardiac electrophysiologist Dr John Mandrola gives another six reasons in his blog:

  • Doctors are passionate about what they do and blogging is a way of sharing this.
  • To educate; both the student and the teacher can learn from a blog.
  • To help others help themselves.
  • To give a look behind the medical scene.
  • To archive useful thoughts and notes.
  • To show that doctors are humans too. He writes: “Though doctors seek perfection, we tire, become frustrated, make mistakes, and harbor regrets. We are you. We are human.”

If you can email you can blog

A common question patients ask me is whether the influenza vaccine can bring on an infection with the viral disease – so I wrote a post about why the flu shot cannot cause flu. To answer questions about bulk billing I wrote this post. I refer patients actively to my blog.

Most doctors are experts in discussing health concerns and educating their patients in a one-on-one situation. There are many health messages doctors share with their patients. All that is needed is to write these down, just like writing an email, and post the information on the web in blog format.

Setting up a blog takes 20 minutes. Not sure how to start? Here are some of my tips summarised in a slide show.

5 things to remember before a doctor’s visit

It happens regularly: people visit a doctor but have difficulty providing essential details about their health.

Sometimes people incorrectly assume that all information is always at my fingertips. I don’t blame them; the healthcare sector is complicated and going to the doctor is understandably not everybody’s cup of tea.

And in all fairness, it’s not easy to remember when we had our last tetanus vaccination or in which year we were in the local hospital.

I hope the following five tips will help to make the most of your doctor’s visit.

1. Gather information

Write facts down, together with your questions. The doctor may ask a few things such as: when you first noticed the problem, what made it better or worse, and what your main concerns are. Make sure you know what your questions and expectations are.

  • Tip: Feel free to do your research on the Internet and check your findings with the doctor. Remember that online health information may not be applicable to you.

2. Allow enough time

If you want to discuss a complicated issue or a few problems, consider booking a long appointment to avoid running out of time.

3. Ask a friend or family member to join you

Having someone with you is helpful in many ways: to ask questions, to remember what has been discussed, for support and to give you a lift to and from the clinic if you are unwell.

4. Keep a record of all your past and present health problems

This is important. Doctors always need background information about your health. Don’t automatically assume the doctor always has all the required information.

  • Tip: Your own record could include a list of your medical problems, diagnoses, hospital admissions, operations, medications, vaccinations, allergies to or side effects from certain medications, products or food. Outcomes of important tests are always helpful. Keep a paper record or store the information in a safe place on your computer, phone or preferably electronic health record.

5. Never leave things to the last moment

A doctor’s visit just before a holiday trip, or on a Friday afternoon may cause problems – for example if your doctor needs to do more tests or the recommended medications are not available in the pharmacy. Sometimes a last-minute visit is unavoidable but often good planning goes a long way!