First we were all professional photographers… now we’re all doctors, too?

Our growing dependence upon taking others’ advice is scary to me when I back off and think about it.  Seeking advice on purchases as Qualman describes on pages 89-99 is just good economical sense.  We can save a lot of time, money and frustration by learning from the experiences of others and have our eyes opened to aspects of the purchase or the item itself that we hadn’t considered.  But hmm… medical advice from Facebook friends and acquaintances?  I can see the sharing of home remedies and suggestions for minor health issues, as with the burn example on page 100 of Qualman’s book.  However, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t, say, put a photo of a mole on my arm on Facebook and take a survey as to whether or not they thought it was cancerous, then subsequently base my decision whether or not to go to the doctor on their opinions.

That being said, I do participate in exchanges like this all the time, as both the person asking the question and one of the individuals offering opinions.  Do I think I know what’s best for whatever a friend’s ailment might be?  No.  I just want to help and not seem as if I’m ignoring a friend’s concern.  We have a saying at work, “trust but verify.”  (I know, we seem to have a lot of sayings at my workplace, but they fit a wide rage of situations.)  We take our friends’ input into consideration, but I don’t think most of us take the advice of our social networking friends as seriously as Qualman makes it seem – or at least we shouldn’t.  I acknowledge that on further down page 100 he says that, “After their physician, nurse, or pharmacist, people look within their network from those they trust for good advice on medical treatments and medications.” He then further cites an iCrossing study that suggests that, “Some even list the advice from their friends above that of their physician.” Yipes.  Don’t get me wrong – I know doctors are people like everyone else, they make mistakes, they are working for a paycheck, and there are “good” doctors and “bad” doctors. But even though I have some pretty intelligent friends, I’m sure that in eight-plus years of medical school and continuing education my doctor and the Walgreens pharmacist learned something about health and illness that even my smartest Facebook friends haven’t.


Hold on, Dr. Whoever. I need to get a second, third, fourth and fifth opinion from my Facebook friends.

I suppose the basis of my concern here lies in how disturbing it is that so many people distrust the medical field in general that they would even consider taking friends’ advice over a trained professional.  Often, if we ask six people the same question, we will get six different answers.  Isn’t it likely that we will pick and choose our favored answer, even if it is subconsciously, potentially ignoring something that requires medical attention?  We can talk ourselves into and out of things and allow our friends to convince us one way or another, but hearing a diagnosis or advice from a medical professional carries a certain amount of authority that our friends simply can’t or shouldn’t provide for us. We don’t know the big picture of our advising friends’ situation, even if it seems they’ve experienced the same issue we are asking about, but doctors with access to medical records can take into account details we may not realize are related to the condition. Qualman states on page 101 that the increase in our health care and medical equipment discussions via social networking is benefitting society, but I think this is only true if we apply a healthy dose (pun intended) of common sense, and unfortunately, not everyone has that.

Posted on October 19, 2012, in Social Media, Society, Trust. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Laura, I totally agree with your last thought. Nowadays, it seems to be more important than ever to apply common sense with a ‘pinch of critical thinking’ to sieve through the humongous amounts of information. We have to constantly decide what to believe and what to spend our time on.
    Qualman’s description on how we use social media to make decisions seemed to me like the updated version of how we did it before the Internet. We got together (physically) with our friends and talked about thinking buying a new item or feeling this certain pain in your body. Of course, everybody wants to help, so you always got all kinds of opinions. Today, with social media, it is just the speedy version of the same behavior. Then and now it is always up to me sitting back and think about it and decide on my own which route to take. Medical advice is always a tricky one, but all in all Qualman makes a good point in saying that we probably trust those people we know already more with their opinion than somebody we never met – and quite frankly don’t even know if that person actually exist (see fake hotel reviews). So to me this all is not that new of a behavior. It seems just the tools how to do it changed, I don’t necessarily use the phone anymore to call somebody, but to post and google. Same difference….

  2. Excellent post! I totally agree too, and once again have to mention current MSTPC student Carmen’s thesis on social media use in health care institutions. If we like the convenience of social media & have medical questions, isn’t the best option to ask medical professionals rather than our FB friends? See for some great information, particularly the Top 10 list in this post:

    Of course, the people running the sites/feeds may be on the marketing side of things, but they have the reputation and resources at their disposal more than lay people, right?

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