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Facebook Makes a Bad Doctor

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    An employee at Kohll's Pharmacy & Homecare in Omaha, Neb., counts pills Tuesday March 16, 2004. A few health insurers, including Humana Inc. and WellPoint Health Networks, are experimenting with new prescription drug plans that forgo the discounts that pharmaceutical companies offer in exchange for guaranteeing their products a place on insurers' preferred lists and instead base what patients pay on the drug's actual cost. The idea is that patients will opt for the cheapest medication.(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

    It all started in Canada, where a doctor was reported dismissing current theories that multiple sclerosis was an autoimmune disease and promoted a new procedure to alleviate "brain blockage." 

    The news was widely reported and disseminated on Facebook and other social media -- but not the reports that most physicians widely discredited his theories. Soon, the debate became about lobbying for clinical trials and Canada quickly saw that social media could be extremely influential in social policy, Nature reported.

    "New tools such as Facebook and Youtube make it considerably more likely that patients learn about such therapies, without necessarily learning about their potential limitations," wrote the study's authors, researchers at Memorial University in St. Johns, Newfoundland, and St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

    So, how can responsible physicians counteract the medical misinformation on Facebook and Twitter? The problem is that many are being told not to have much of a social media presence. Instead they are told to keep their social media life as professional and clean as possible.

    "Rapid dissemination, downloading and reposting make it nigh impossible to scrub unwanted images and text from the Web," Dr. Danielle Ofri wrote on the Well blog for the New York Times. Doctors are also held accountable for ethics violations online as they are in person. However, even Ofri suggested that doling out correct information to patients can be a good remedy for everyone in social media.

    Other problems also occur when someone like Dr. Alexandra Thran allegedly writes about her work and patients without naming names, but a third party can identify whom she may be writing about -- that becomes violation of confidentiality. Thran ended up with a suspension and a $500 fine.