"What matters most is how well you walk through the fire" -- Charles Bukowski

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Take Your Online Medical Advice With a Grain of Salt

The internet is great for research and general knowledge when it comes to health, but don’t forget that webMD shows you the worst case (and every case) scenario when it comes to a headache. Don’t forget that the blog you read, unless they are citing sources, cannot diagnose you or give accurate medical advice tailored to your body. I have said this before and I will continue to say it again and again: the internet cannot take the place of a physician’s opinion or advice and pseudoscience is not welcome here.

Before I started Chronic Curve, I was following two scoliosis-related tumblrs with similar goals to CC (they will remain anonymous out of respect). It wasn’t long before I realized they were run by very young girls who were soliciting medical advice, diagnoses and cures (a cure for scoliosis does not exist, fyi) to other fourteen year old girls who were clearly impressionable and taking their advice very seriously. One blog author explained to another follower that seeing a surgeon for a second opinion was unnecessary, as drinking “lots of milk” would increase calcium and “fix” her spine. The recipient of that advice took it seriously.

Aside from the fact that I don’t believe it’s appropriate for pre-teens to be giving out medical advice on tumblr (or even using tumblr, but that’s another story…), the situation represents a larger issue that comes with internet usage and sites like WebMD. The internet is not your doctor and cannot replace your doctor. If you dislike your doctor, please find another one, but don’t replace your physician with an internet resource. 

I did send messages to those two blogs expressing politely my concerns and pointed out their seriously incorrect information, and tried to explain the harm that their content can cause. I never got a response, but it stayed with me (Needless to say, I unfollowed. Seeing their content made me angry).

I see it on tumblr and various other forums frequently, people diagnosing themselves by discussing their symptoms with other users or by the use of WebMD. 

The problem with that? 

  • Everyone has a different body with different physiology, a different past medical history, different genetics, different external factors affecting one’s health, different states of mind, and different doctors! You simply cannot compare your entire assortment of symptoms with those of another user name via internet. They are not you, they cannot be you, and while their advice might be valuable, they cannot replace a physician.

  • WebMD seriously causes panic. I’ve seen it and I really do not advocate the use of WebMD for anything other than research NOT related to one’s own symptoms before seeing a doctor. Search symptoms of a headache and it can tell you everything from advising OTC pain medication to “oops! You might have a brain tumor!” and I simply cannot reiterate this enough: a pharmaceutical-run web database cannot examine you and your lifestyle like a licensed physician can on an examination table.

So what can you do to stop others from advocating pseudoscience or harmful incorrect information on tumblr?

  • Bring it up! Nine times out of ten, the author truly believes in the information they are advocating and may not realize their blog’s audience and the profound effect the content may have on a young impressionable follower. Raise the question “Hey, I know you mean well, but ________. Just a heads up, food for thought.” Or go ahead and be blunt. Or hey, send them this nifty article!
  • Cite your sources. Before advocating a treatment or soliciting advice, point your follower or whoever is asking the question in a direction of a source or various resource that can further answer their questions, and then encourage them to seek out a professional opinion.
  • Use a disclaimer. If you run a blog like mine, add a small disclaimer explaining the intention of your blog. If a follower asks you for your opinion on their diagnosis, or asks you FOR a diagnosis, go ahead and give them food for thought or send them a valuable resource (send them WebMD and I will hunt you down and smack you!), but remember to explain to them the importance of seeking out a professional opinion, and explain why they cannot compare their physiology to yours.
The resources shared on Chronic Curve are for your own general interest, whether that interest be in understanding your symptoms, learning about new research, or connecting with others. I share resources in hopes of offering them to others, but I refuse to advocate cures and I never post content without sources. I am not a doctor and am NOT qualified to tell you what is wrong with you. I hope that if there was ever a question about a post of mine that any follower would ask or voice their concerns to me via email. I can only discuss what worked for me, offer what worked for me to you, and encourage you to take that information and use it as a platform to build off of.

Take what you read or learn to form questions or ideas and bring it to a physician (or multiple, however many opinions you want). That is what Chronic Curve is for— it is a building block in one’s journey, sharing of resources and coping skills, sharing my own journey to inspire or connect with others, but the end all be all of your medical mystery does not occur here. It should occur at the hands of a physician who went through years of arduous education and training who took an oath to help you. 

And if I ever see anyone on here advocating large quantities of milk as a cure for scoliosis, you will be hearing from me.

Wishing everyone well,


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