Monday, June 29, 2015

Internet advice for physicians

Are Evil People Influencing Your Patients?
Arthur L. Caplan, PhD

If you were to draw up a list of who belongs in Dante's Seventh Circle of Hell, you might put in some of your enemies. You might put in certain athletes that play for teams you don't like. But I have another candidate for you: Belle Gibson.

Belle, an Australian woman somewhere in her 20s (she doesn't even tell the truth about that), had a very active website where she claimed that she had beaten multiple forms of cancer by eating right and living healthy. She had an app you could download to tell you how to do this; she had a cookbook that told you what to eat; and she had hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites who took her very seriously.

But Belle did not have cancer and she was full of malarkey. Her diets were not based on anything of value. It is not even clear that she herself followed her diets. In fact, she was a complete fraud. The reason I say she belongs in the Seventh Circle of Hell is that she led many people to believe they could beat cancer by eating what she said to eat. There is no evidence that you can get rid of cancer through your diet. Certainly, she deceived people into spending a lot of money on her books and dietary advice, and she persuaded a lot of people that the way to fight disease is to breathe healthy air and live a healthy lifestyle, which is not a bad thing to tell patients, but it is not good to tell patients that this will fight cancer.

She appears at a time when we are struggling to decide what to do about misinformation on the Internet. Many others, such as the Food Babe, who has been touting all kinds of healthy diet stuff, and even the much maligned Dr. Oz, who has been selling quick-fix solutions to obesity, are telling people that there are magic beans and super-duper extracts that can solve all manner of health problems...

It is time for doctors to get into this with their patients. You need to ask them what they are looking at on social media. Find out how they have changed their lifestyles and whether they are using supplements or taking things you should know about. Then you should challenge them by noting that, more and more, we are finding out that what looks good and easy and simple is not, and those who use social media and the Internet to tout these "cures" to make a buck are not where you should go for trusted information.
Physicians need to know where to send patients for reliable information.  Know the websites, find out about social media so that you can say, "Here is a vetted source from the American Cancer Society or the American Medical Association (or other expert professional groups) to help you deal with diseases." Do not leave your patients hanging, relying on whatever it is that pops up in the top 10 Google searches.



  1. Just one slightly tangential comment: Doctors need to come to terms with the internet and the unalterable fact that today's medical consumers do, and most certainly should, avail themselves of the medical resources there. There seems to be something of a consensus that any independent research by patients is an annoying, ill-advised usurpation of the physician's role. We can all understand that self-misdiagnoses can be problematic, but we also all know from personal experience that we catch important things that doctors don't, get good advice from reputable medical sites, and are unlikely to risk the entirety of our input to an overburdened, highly fallible and distracted doctor (or NP) who has all of 15 minutes to hear our concerns. We have lots of time to attend to our own predicament and a lot of information that physicians have neither the time nor inclination to gather from us.

    Informed consumers should not be intimidated by arrogant doctors, whose track record is unfortunately not particularly impressive. Physicians should respect and work in harmony with intelligently informed patients. Comment Confetti 7/12/15

  2. Vincent Gammill, allegedly posing as a doctor, runs the Natural Oncology Institute, which is still online at the time of this post. The site’s ‘mission statement’ included the following:

    The mission of the Natural Oncology Institute, Inc. is to find, generate and evaluate objective information on alternative and complementary care for those with cancer, to communicate this knowledge to individuals and practitioners and to provide practical assistance and support to those with cancer.

    In reality, what the site was peddling was absolute nonsense and preyed on desperate cancer patients looking for hope.

    Currently, the investigation is now looking for additional people who have received ‘treatment’ from Gammill. A female patient, who asked ABC News not to reveal her name, has come forward with the accusations.

    Paying Gammill $2,000 for two days of treatment, she received an unknown powdery substance and oil that were mixed into a capsule. According to the police report, she told Gammill about an adverse reaction to the treatment:

    “She began to get a burning sensation in her stomach, and Gammill told the victim it was good her stomach was burning because that meant the ingredients were still active,” the police said.

    The victim had followed Gammill’s work since 2009 when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. After it had begun to spread throughout her body, she was more willing to try alternative treatments.

    She drove 300 miles to his office in Richmond, CA where she paid for the treatment. All the prescriptions were expired, and after many comments that didn’t make sense to the woman, she decided to go to the police.

  3. SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – A large tertiary care center in Sydney, Australia is pulling out all the stops to try and cut their expenses. As of next month, all doctors and nurses currently on staff will be replaced by parents who have done research on the Internet.

    “I can’t tell you how happy and relieved I am when a patient tells me they have done some research on the internet” said head of neurology, Dr. Eric Sheppard. “It’s only topped by a patient telling me they have a family member who is a nurse.”

    The hospital is excited about how much money this move should save them, not to mention the overwhelming support from parents everywhere.

    “This is a great move in my opinion” said anti-vaccer Meryl Dorey. “Most parents know more than doctors anyways, so this is a huge step in the right direction.”

    The current staff are in the process of being moved to other less innovative health centers.