Dr. Mom: Be Wary of Medical Advice on Social Media
In this day and age, social media is a staple of modern living. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest—these online communities become ingrained in our everyday lives. From the common man to celebrities, social media is an extension of one’s life. Many businesses have social media accounts as well! Because these forums play such a large part in our lives, it becomes easy to go there for advice, especially if you belong to private ‘groups’ of like-minded people.
“Which haircut should I get?”
“We are planning a vacation to the coast, does anyone have any ‘must visit’ places to recommend?”
“I’m looking for new kid-friendly dinner recipes, our meal planning is getting a little redundant!”
Social media can be an excellent place to turn to for ideas on household challenges, style, and vacation options. If you have a circle of peers you can trust, it can also be a good place for talking about how to handle aspects of parenting you may be frustrated by, or unfamiliar with. It's true that social media forums are bringing the world closer together; one post at a time. It can be an absolutely wonderful tool!
But tools can be misused.
“I haven’t been feeling my baby move, and I’m starting to bleed. What should I do?”
“My contractions are about 5 minutes apart now, and I think my water has broken. How much longer should I wait before I go to the hospital?”
“I’m so tired of being pregnant, what are some ways I can naturally induce labour?”
You wouldn’t want an electrician using a nail to check your outlets. You don’t want a heart surgeon going into your chest with a butter knife. And you really don’t want social media to be the place to receive medical advice, especially pertaining to your pregnancy or children. Advice from people who are not your medical care providers, while well-meaning, can be dangerous.
What makes the advice found on social media so potentially dangerous?
The internet is a vast, wild place. Googling something simple will display millions of results. Asking a question in a pregnancy or parenting Facebook group can bring in a plethora of ‘facts’ and opinions. Many of these facts and opinions are coming from personal experience, or the experience of someone they know. If that’s the case, the information they were given at the time may be outdated, misinterpreted, or just plain wrong. Science and research are constantly turning over new information designed to keep us healthy and safe. What was considered safe 5, 10, or 20 years ago may be proven dangerous now. While the person giving the advice may not realize that their information is outdated or incorrect, that doesn’t make it harmless. It is always safe to assume that your doctor or midwife is more current and informed on anything medically-related.
Search engines hold a lot of information. A few simple keystrokes, and a wealth of knowledge is at your fingertips. If you read something on a blog post, or in an online magazine article, how can you be certain that it is accurate? Is the source linked? Is it credible? Finding credible, unbiased sources online can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Unless you know exactly where to look, you must wade through the opinion pieces to reach the facts. When receiving (or giving) any type of advice in an online forum, it is so important to remember to keep it evidence-based, and from a credible source. Otherwise, the facts easily blur into the opinions, and that can be a grave mistake if an opinion is mistaken for a fact, as it can lead to further complications of your situation.
YOUR MEDICAL HISTORY
Your own personal medical history is one of the key reasons to stay away from social media for your medical advice. You may have underlying conditions, allergies, minor complications, or prescribed medications that will have serious interactions; every part of your body and your medical history make up a piece in a big, elaborate puzzle. Someone online may recommend a certain herbal supplement. You do this, and suddenly you are feeling dizzy and have broken out in a horrible rash. You didn’t realize that due to an allergy you have, a minor ingredient in this supplement was unsafe for you. Something so seemingly simple can have consequences.
WHEN IN DOUBT, GET CHECKED OUT
Your medical care team is ready and capable of handling all of your questions and concerns. That’s why they spent so many years in university and are required to maintain their credentials with educational courses and seminars. They have your medical records on hand, they are familiar with your situation and history, and they have a deep knowledge of medical processes and procedures. They see a much bigger piece of your puzzle than someone online does. This makes them the ultimate source for medically guiding you and making suggestions for your health.
Getting checked out by your medical provider doesn’t always have to mean an office visit. Sometimes, a simple phone call to have a question answered is all you need. If your question is about something general, like wanting more information about something like Group B Strep, or Gestational Diabetes, the SOGC or Health Canada websites can be a great resource for you. You can gather the information that is there, from a credible source, and reach out to your doctor with any additional questions or concerns.
WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD I AVOID ASKING ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
There’s a few simple things to ask yourself to help you determine which questions are best suited for your doctor.
- Does this advice relate to treating a medical condition, either major or minor?
- Will the comments likely include the phrase “call your doctor” or “go to the hospital”?
- Could a delay in seeking medical care for this lead to other potential complications?
- Am I asking this because I am worried about my or my child’s health or safety?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you need to re-think the decision to post on social media, and instead call your doctor or midwife. No question is a silly question to ask, and they are there to provide you with information and quality care.
There is a difference between medical advice and support, and asking for personal opinions and support.
For instance, “I am Group B Strep positive. What are some ways I can clear this up on my own? Do I have to use the antibiotics in labour?” is jumping down the rabbit hole of asking for medical advice.
“I was just told I am GBS positive, has anyone else ever experienced this? I’m so nervous,” isn’t so much a question as it is seeking comfort and solidarity from those who have been through it. It’s a very fine line, and sometimes you will get unsolicited medical advice on posts meant to simply seek comfort. The key is being able to identify the medical advice, and then moving past it. Social media is a place for social interaction and community, and your medical care provider is the place to go for medical advice and guidance.
Don’t put your medical care into the hands of someone online. Be smart with your body and health—you are worth it!
Loree Siermachesky lives in Medicine Hat and is a multiple certified birth doula, certified postpartum doula, certified Lamaze childbirth educator, certified breastfeeding counselor, certified placenta encapsulation specialist and a certified car seat technician. She has had the honour of attending over 1400 births in the last 20 years and is one of Alberta's most prominent doulas. She is well-known within the international doula community and greatly respected by the medical providers in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Brooks, Taber, and Calgary. Her original doula business won the Medicine Hat Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year in 2013. In 2016 she was nominated as a Women in Business Inspire Award recipient and she was honoured by her peers as the prestigious ProDoula's Diamond Award winner.