What’s the best place to go for medical advice? How about Twitter? It’s private, no one will make fun of you, 140 characters is usually enough to describe all the complexities of a medical problem, no one pretends to be someone who they are not and everything’s accurate on Twitter…right?
Well, Ken Jeong, who is a real doctor who is an actor who usually doesn’t play a doctor on television (otherwise known as TV) or the movies, except when he is playing a doctor on TV or the movies, recently took to Twitter to answer some medical questions:
In providing these answers, Dr. Jeong actually knows what he is talking about. He got his M.D. from the University of North Carolina after graduating from Duke University (which is a little like putting some Pepsi in a Coke bottle).
After medical school, Dr. Jeong completed his internal medicine residency at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans and practiced medicine at a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Woodland Hills, California. Yes, Dr. Jeong answers the questions sort of like a real doctor would…except maybe calling the patients stupid a few times.
But, in general, be very, very, very careful about seeking medical advice on Twitter. Soliciting medical advice on Twitter seems to becoming increasingly common. Just look at the number of people using hashtags such as #doctorhelp, #needadoctor and #isthisbad.
But doing so can be the equivalent of standing in the middle of Times Square and your workplace and your local restaurant and your place of worship simultaneously and yelling, “Can someone help me with my pubic lice?” or some other similar personal question (and then recording yourself and then randomly distributing the recording).
Paul Hiebert wrote for Slate about the tendency of people to “overshare” on social media or TMI (which can stand for “too much information” or “tweet my insides” to everyone).
When you are on a smartphone, a laptop or another electronic device, it can be easy to forget that there are real live people behind the screen, such as your parents, your exes, your boss, your future bosses or Gigi Hadid. Therefore, you may want to be careful about what you ask or keep the question general enough so as to not reveal too much (“I’m asking this for my friends, who happen to be pubic lice…”), otherwise there goes your privacy and secret, maybe your job and definitely your date with Gigi Hadid. (By the way, if you are sharing sensitive medical information with the hashtag #isthisbad, the answer is yes.)
Also, advice on Twitter can be like singing at a karaoke club: there’s plenty of it (especially from people who are inebriated), a lot of it’s bad and potentially really wrong, and most of it is not from real professionals.
Many people on Twitter won’t let minor things such as lack of qualifications, knowledge and experience prevent them from answering your question. Sometimes their answers can be so definitive or so confident to seem quite convincing…even if the answers are as wrong as they are definitive.
For example, Iltifat Husain wrote on KevinMD.com about a tweet that told someone (incorrectly) that “if movement, deep breaths, swallowing makes pain worse or better, it is NOT a heart attack.” Studies such as this one published in the American Journal of Infection Control have found extensive misinformation being spread around Twitter.