Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Physician warns of seeking medical quick-fix

Doc who gained fame by disputing Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop claims offers advice about online advice

Is seeking medical advice online normally a good idea?

According to Dr. Jen Gunter, an ob/gyn who practices in San Francisco and who gained some degree of fame from repeatedly disputing A-list actress Gwyneth Paltrow's claims about benefits provided by her Goop company, it can be good.

Or bad.
Dr. Jen Gunter
Gunter, who despite admitting that she's "invested heavily in the social media my blog and writing for other sources," warns that "we appear to be moving from the age of information to the age of misinformation."

In an article published by the Marin Independent Journal some time ago, Gunter reports that a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center had showed "69 percent of Americans (80 percent of those with internet access) turned to the internet for information about their health."

She maintains that "people use online sources to research symptoms, self-diagnosis, confirm a diagnosis, investigate tests or therapies and search for alternatives not recommended by their health-care provider."

She also cites survey findings that "26 percent [social media users] mostly trusted the content and 52 percent mostly distrusted the science content." 

Another caveat: "Sorting the good medical information from the bad online can be hard, even for a physician who has medical training, access to medical libraries, medical society that provide guidelines and close colleagues we know to be experts in the field."


Because, she writes, "there are predatory scientific journals, hidden (and not so hidden) bias, trends that get hyped, and good information is often sprinkled in with low-quality or false information."

Also, Gunter notes, "let's face it, everyone — physicians included — can't resist the lure of a quick fix!"

Another problem — how to uncomplicate net-navigation so a user an "sort out the quality from the quacks."

Among her suggestions "for sorting the sorcery from the science" are to determine whether a given site is "selling a product related to the subject matter…for example, an article about fatigue that sells supplements for that symptom," to beware quasi-scientific buzz words (such as toxins, detoxification or adrenal fatigue), to avoid promises of sensationalized or extreme outcomes (everyone is cured!) and scary tales of harm ("most therapies are not all bad or all good…medicine is more shades of gray than black or white…except smoking…it's bad for you").

Other of her ideas include finding whether a "product or pill [is] being promoted by a doctor" (if they've received money for pushing it, that points to bias and "the information may be correct, but you always want a non-biased source for confirmation," not blindly accepting patient testimonials (which are "not vetted for accuracy or bias"), and not relying on sites that "offer easy solutions for hard problems" (obesity, fatigue, depression and cancer, for instance).

Gunter also cautions about comment sections. "Uncivil and rude comments polarize readers and can lead people to distrust the good content they have just read. Even one ad hominem attack can inflate perceived risk."

Sound advice — as well as anecdotal material — about diseases can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

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