When bloggers become doctors

With blogger Belle Gibson fooling the world and her followers into thinking she a. had cancer of pretty much every organ which she believed was caused by a vaccine, b. scammed charities out of a lot of money, and c. ‘cured’ her fictional cancer without so much as a dash of chemotherapy, many have blamed her for influencing others who actually have cancer into trying homoeopathic remedies rather than seek professional help.

But should we be influenced by people such as Belle when it comes to illness, or even our heath and fitness in general?

We asked Ross of Fashion Worked to explain a bit about his experience with Dr Twitter, and why using Google to diagnose your illness is a bit of an idiot move.

dr google

I find the world a baffling place at times, well most of the time, I feel like some kind of atavistic time traveller hurled forward into a future I am unprepared for. As a man born in the 80’s I still think that wifi on the tube is amazing, when I was a kid we used the telephone on a specially designated table in the hallway, whispering so our parents didn’t hear our plans.

Perhaps it’s my background in peer reviewed analysis and evidence based results that make it so, I worked in data for a very long time, but I’m baffled by one thing more than most. Why so many people get their advice from the internet. Dr Twitter seems more called upon than people with qualifications.

At this point I’m going to make it clear I refer not to well researched, peer reviewed positions tested in solid academic work, even in science and medicine there are differing opinions, but those are built on solid foundations.

Social media has become the modern trip to the Dr, the nutritionist, and the physical activity instructor. This is something I find utterly worrying.

A doctor goes to school, college, university, and placement before being allowed to practice, but in this modern world anyone with a laptop or smartphone can act like they are qualified.

Medical advice should not be crowdsourced, or handed out from people with no qualifications. Yes we may share thoughts, discuss the treatment we had, or talk about what worked for them, but increasingly people are telling others what treatment they need.

I have two diagnosed mental conditions, up until recently I was treated by a very respected consultant who pulled on a lifetimes knowledge, experience and discussion with fellow colleagues to do his work. I have lost count of the amount of times people have told me why he’s wrong, what I should do, and why I need to listen to them. One even advised a lethal cocktail of mixed medications. Their qualification, they sometimes had bad days and had been on Wikipedia.

But a simple look at the #healthyselves hashtag will highlight the problem.

Nutrition is an evolving and changing science I accept. But some of the stuff posted on that tag is incredible. Examples are “my healthy wedges” covered in beef chilli and cheese. Now I think we all know a big dose of that is good for the soul, and good occasionally, but there is no way it should be on a healthy selves tag, especially when there was some serious frying of beef, onions and peppers involved. There are many ways to make that dish “healthier”, none of those were offered.

I know some health and fitness trainers, when I talk to them they often comment on the danger of the advice Dr Twitter gives. This can range from bad positioning in exercise to potentially life altering bad advice on injury. One when I mentioned I was writing this told me of a bar lift suggestion that would potentially snap both wrists.

In summary, yes use the net as a tool for info gathering, ideas and inspiration, but please read the basis for that advice, ask yourself about the qualifications or knowledge behind the posts etc.

And at the end of the day, if he was a real person we would say “Dr Twitter should be struck off.”

(Coincidentally just after I wrote this I saw an article in a US science magazine commenting that Google were now looking at their own ways to promote safe advice and tackle the phenomenon of Dr Twitter. See the biggest company online is worried about being linked to it, it must be a problem)