When I started building the nmi portal over 10 years ago, the term “Dr. Google” on. Asking Dr. Google meant googling a few of his symptoms and then coming across all sorts of websites that list diseases that go with them. And the deeper you delved into this web search, the more serious the illness became. And so what felt like 100% of searches for “stomach ache” or “sore throat” ended with the “diagnosis”: cancer. Deadly cancer.
Then came a time when people began to question this mechanism. People still googled for the symptoms, but soon stopped or paid attention to certifications of websites, such as the HON code (the nmi portal, for example, is certified by this code). People became more skeptical and no longer believed every self-diagnosis of cancer. But then came the blue giant: Facebook.
Dr. Google is dead, long live Dr. Facebook
For some time now, people have no longer been googling the symptoms, but describing and discussing them in Facebook forums. Not only do you post your own intestinal flora check including highly sensitive data such as your name, date of birth and home address, but also medical certificates, laboratory results and blood values. So far, so problematic (in terms of data protection law). But the real game is just beginning: Facebook users are now starting to analyze this data. They give medication tips, throw diagnoses into the room, explain values (often incorrectly) and advise certain medications, for example.
So Dr. Google has been replaced by Dr. Facebook. Well, you could say that they are real people, not websites that want to sell you something. People trust real people more than impersonal websites. Yes. Safe. I am a biologist myself and have worked in marketing for many years and know that we are social creatures and trust other individuals blindly. If that weren’t the case, we would already be extinct. We also have something called ratio. So the ability to think, we have reason. Unfortunately, we switch off this ability when consulting Dr. Facebook.
Who am I actually asking?
Who are these other individuals who are giving me advice? Do they really know their stuff? Are they medically trained? I’ve been looking at this more closely over the last few months.
An intestinal check was posted, and immediately afterwards a lady wrote that the whole thing looked like leaky gut , that L-glutamine should be taken “gradually” and that medication should be taken against too much stomach acid. I took a closer look at this guide. It’s not difficult thanks to Facebook. She graduated from a commercial academy and works as a sales assistant in a clothing store.
This example is not an isolated case. I found a car mechanic, a controller at a retail company and a farmer who were happily making diagnoses in Facebook groups, recommending medication and even advising people to stop taking medication prescribed by their doctor. The diagnoses included not only dubious diseases such as leaky gut syndrome, but also real and sometimes serious illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, bowel cancer and food allergies.
People are more likely to trust those affected than doctors
Now some will object: “Yes, but they are affected people themselves, they know more than the doctors.” Ok. Does that mean that if a farmer has had open heart surgery, then as a patient he knows more than the heart surgeon? I wonder which of us would rather be operated on by a farmer than a doctor. My decision is quite clear. And this also applies to less obvious examples such as food intolerances or the common cold. Just because someone is affected doesn’t make them an expert who medical advice.
I don’t want to be misunderstood: Those affected are important sources of information, no question. But we’re talking about cooking recipes, tricks for everyday life or psychological support to show that I’m not alone: I’m not alone, there are others. But we are definitely not talking about medical advice!
There are also bad doctors
One problem that keeps cropping up here is that doctors really have no idea, explain too little to patients or explain it in such a way that nobody understands. Our healthcare system is one of the best in the world, but it costs a lot of money and means that doctors have very little time per patient. And not everyone who studies medicine is born to be a doctor. That is a real problem. And it is partly responsible for the fact that the Dr. Facebook phenomenon is so widespread.
So what can we all do?
I think we need to become a little more level-headed again and, like Dr. Google back then, now put Dr. Facebook in his place. We need to understand that we can’t entrust our health to just anyone who joins a Facebook group. We also need to start trusting doctors again. At the same time, many doctors need to get off their high horse, take their time and explain things to patients. And in such a way that they are understood. Politicians are called upon to shape our healthcare system in such a way that doctors can also take this urgently needed time with patients, i.e. also get paid for it. So there is a lot to do. But what we can all do immediately: Stop posting medical lab results, tests or doctor’s orders in Facebook groups for discussion. We are not doing ourselves any good.