I’ve asked myself this question often.
Especially in these times when anyone with a computer or smart phone can find the means to amplify their voice using any number of social media platforms. In this sense the Facebooks, Twitters and Instagrams of the world have been a double edged sword. Just log on, sign up, make a password and suddenly the reach these networks provide can be used to promote ideas regardless of the credibility of the individual. This brings me to what I think is the most interesting point — the ability to connect with people relies on an entirely different set of rules. Ones where how much schooling you’ve been through, how technically proficient you are in your field and how much you know fall behind your ability to empathize and create human connections.
It doesn’t take long to realize which groups of people are wielding great influence in the public health arena. The voices of celebrities, alternative health practitioners and marketing agencies have drowned out the appeals by physicians and other health practitioners when it comes to what to eat, what medicines to take and habits to follow. Who is to blame in this battle for influence? More importantly, are we as a community of doctors, ones that prides ourselves on pointing out problems and carefully designing their solutions, doing everything we can to promote good ideas? I really don’t think we are.
For a decade or more we train to understand the science behind diseases, the art of diagnosis, and the subsequent treatment. It comes as no surprise that skills such as delivering this information, distilling it, and using platforms to share it are in the backseat. What good are breakthroughs if we can’t convince the public to benefit from them? Just look at the controversy surrounding vaccinations or the hundreds of websites that claim “all-natural” treatments for dangerous cancers. It’s so easy to find opinions from any number of players that stray from conventional medical wisdom.
This article isn’t about statements made by large organizations like the American College of Physicians or the American College of Psychiatrists. I’m talking about on an individual level, are each one of us using the resources we have to guide and shift the dialogue surrounding these everyday problems? To me the answer to that is no, unfortunately we are not.
Everyone seems to be vying for the attention of the patient save for MDs. In a persistently connected and educated world patients don’t just naturally fall in line and follow the advice of main stream medicine. They read up on problems on their own, consult with friends, reach out to other resources — it is up to us to continue to find ways to connect with our friends, colleagues, families and community members, for their own safety. This certainly needs to be emphasized in medical school and expanded upon in residency beyond the “be careful what you post online” discussion.
In just a single day of clinic I can find scenarios where people have been lead astray by following the wrong advice.
- The patient claiming screening colonoscopies are not important because “nothing is wrong right now”.
- Aspirin and statin medications being pointless since his/her mother or father never had problems with heart disease.
- “I don’t care if 50% of people die with this same condition, I am not one of those people”.
- My friend had the same thing, they didn’t get treatment and turned out fine.
It’s time for doctors to find ways to amplify their voices so that patients can get the information they need, or all they’ll have is the advice of everyone but us! Most importantly its time for doctors to guide the dialogue surrounding these issues so it isn’t left to lay people and those with nowhere near the expertise we’ve earned.
It’s time to speak up!