‘Wild West’ of health advice

A leading doctor is warning Australians not to take in “dodgy” medical advice from social media

Dr Chris Moy, Chairman of the Australian Medical Association’s Ethics and Medico-legal Committee, spoke to 3AW’s Stephen Quartermain following news that a former cancer patient said bad advice nearly killed him.

Former cancer patient Nikhil Autur, who had been diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 17, told The Australian that he had taken bad advice from an individual who told him that baking soda could cure his cancer, and attempted to sell him “super vitamins”.

“As a chronically ill person, and ex-­cancer patient, I see Instagram ­influencers trying to sell things that may not work, in ways that flout the law, and they get away with it,” Mr Autur said.

“You can’t sell TVs or fridges based off false statements and claims, but somehow it’s OK to gamble with peoples’ lives.”

A spokesperson for YouTube told The Australian that ““Misinformation is a difficult challenge and any misinformation on medical topics is especially concerning … We’ve taken a number of steps to address this including surfacing more authoritative content across our site.”

Mr Quartermain said that it sounded “fairly obvious” that Australians should not rely on social media such as Facebook and YouTube for health advice, but that a lot of people still did so.

“The bottom line is it is extremely seductive sometimes because sometimes you’ll be given sort of easier options or what appears to be sort of simple options than your doctor is prescribing,” Dr Moy replied.

“But the bottom line is that people need to open their eyes.

“We’re talking about the Wild West there, there are no checks and balances, no accountability and even worse, even though sometimes people are giving sort of well-meaning advice, it’s likely people are getting something out of it, either popularity or they’re actually getting some monetary sort of advantage out of it.

“It is actually pretty scary what can happen and so we’re just asking people to open their eyes and go to see their doctor where they’re protected.”

He said that often the main problem was not the treatment with non-evidence-based products, but the delay in treatment with medicine with good data to support its use.

“For example, you might have a symptom and go: oh well, this seems simple, I’ll just—I’ll take the advice of Facebook and it turns out that this treatment actually delays you seeing a doctor, which actually means that there’s a delay in treatment and it could be something as bad as picking up the cancer,” said Dr Moy.

“And that may make the difference.”

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