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Why is it so dangerous to believe the Internet is more than just a doctor




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It starts during yoga classes. He felt a strange jerk in his neck, a sensation he didn't know at all. His friend suggested that I immediately go to the emergency room. Apparently he had a heart attack.

Patients do not fit the stereotype of someone who is prone to a heart attack. He sports, doesn't smoke and manages his diet; However, after reviewing his medical history, I found that his cholesterol level was very high. He has been prescribed statins to reduce cholesterol, but he never paid attention to the recipe because of the bad things he read on the internet about these drugs. He was a victim of a condition that quickly became a modern pandemic: fake medical news.

Although disinformation has received a lot of attention in the political field, misinformation of medical information can cause more losses. Like fake news in general, medical lies tend to have a greater reach on the Internet than the original and have a very real impact.

Many studies have shown that
The benefits of statins far outweigh the risks, especially for those at high risk of heart disease. However, these drugs have become the target of an online group that disagrees which includes paranoid zealots, people who sell alternative therapies and those who are just looking to get clicks. Countless websites and publications on social networks exaggerate the risks that are actually rare and give rise to unfounded statements, from the statement that statins cause cancer to show that low cholesterol levels are harmful to health.
A 2016 study revealed that items limited to weighing the risks and benefits of statins were associated with patients stopping their treatment to reduce cholesterol, which was associated with an increased incidence of heart attacks.

Fake medical information can also cause
patients have greater side effects because of the "nocebo effect". Sometimes, patients get better with surgery just because they think it will happen; that's the effect
placebo. The effect
nocebo vice versa: patients can have side effects simply because they tend to experience them. The same thing happens with statins. In a double-blind experiment, patients treated with statins were no more likely to report muscle pain than those who used a placebo. Even so, according to one study, in clinical practice nearly one-fifth of patients taking statins reported side effects, which caused many people to stop taking medication.

What other purpose has fake news in your eyes? As always, the vaccine. According to a misleading story that became viral this year, the body of an epidemiologist at one of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was found in the river after he expressed concern about the flu vaccine. Last week, Mark Green, a doctor from Tennessee, who was just elected to Congress, repeated
a lie that is widely denied that vaccines can cause autism (later saying that his comments have been "misinterpreted").

False concerns that the human papilloma virus vaccine causes seizures and other side effects reduce the level of coverage in Japan from 70 percent to less than 1 percent in recent years. Those who apply the polio vaccine in Pakistan are often attacked by militants, believing that the vaccine is intended to sterilize local residents.

Cancer is another big goal of those who promote wrong medical information; Many of them get money with alternative therapies. In a fake article, the following reads: "Although many people believe that cancer tumors are bad, in fact they are ways in which the body tries to stop dangerous cells." This news shows that surgery "implies the risk of spreading dangerous cells", and warns that "prescription drugs cause an increase in acidity in the body, which increases uncontrolled cell mutations."

In a 2017 study, it was found that when cancer patients switched to alternative therapies such as diet, herbs and supplements rather than conventional therapy, they were 2.5 times more likely to die. By exploiting people's fears, those who prevent patients from receiving evidence-based care experience blood stains.

Doctors and nurses often try
prevent patients from looking for answers on the internet. Even so, patients continue to consult with Google about their symptoms and medications because on the internet there is no need to make appointments or wait long, there is no hurry, networks do not make judgments, do not require large reductions and often provide information that seems easy to understand

Silicon Valley must take care of this problem. I am not a lawyer who specializes in freedom of expression, but when the health of people is in danger, perhaps search engines, social media platforms and internet sites must be considered responsible for promoting or storing false information.

The scientific community must do its part to educate the public about key concepts in research, such as the difference between observational studies and high-quality randomized studies. Transparency is very important for maintaining public trust, and news such as that shows that researchers from the National Institutes of Health have requested and received funding from the alcohol industry to conduct a study of the benefits of moderate intake showing how quickly that trust can be damaged.

Finally, journalists can do a better job in disseminating accurate information. Randomized controlled studies are more likely to be covered by news sites, perhaps because the latter tend to produce surprising results. This type of coverage can exaggerate its benefits by ensuring, for example, that statins can cure cancer or help men get an erection; It can also exaggerate the emphasis on potential risks, such as suggesting deceptive correlations with dementia. (Although a small number of people seem to have episodes of transient memory failure after using statins, no randomized controlled trial has found an association between drugs and cognitive failure and certainly not between them and dementia).

However, presenting facts may not be enough. that
The boomerang effect, in which people are increasingly captivated by false beliefs when confronted with facts, can also occur when medical concepts are wrongly challenged. To convince my patient that statin was the best thing for him, I not only gave him clinical information, but I shared a personal story: after my father had a heart attack, I asked his doctor to start immediately. treatment with statins and with the highest doses. I told the patient that even though statins cannot guarantee that I will not experience a heart attack again, I want my father to have the best chance for a healthy life. That's when he agreed to take the recipe.

To have the slightest chance of winning the information war, doctors and researchers must weave our stories with scientific facts. This is the only way to bridge the gap that has been opened between medicine and the masses, and which is now being exploited by wrongful medical information traders.

Haider Warraich is a researcher on heart failure and transplantation at Duke University Medical Center


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