• Samantha McPherson

Why is it so hard to get good quality health advice on the internet?

I’m fessing up about the anxiety around blogging about health.

For some time now, myself and a group of physiotherapists I know have been getting in a tizzy about the amount of absolute fake medical guff that is available on the internet for the unsuspecting reader. Which led me to reflect on why more physiotherapists aren’t offering more of their amazing and helpful knowledge (time and resources permitting).

Which led to a few questions…

Why aren’t more physiotherapist speaking up?

Well, there are several reasons. We live in a litigious society and physiotherapists are reminded daily (mainly by their employers) that if they speak out of turn, then our jobs, license and reputation will be on the line. And do remember the cost of legal fees! Scaremongering stories are regularly shared on social media (d*ily m*il!) and not to mention that a treatment gone wrong can cause actual harm to a patient.

What about social media?

Presently we are in a huge boom of online personality-personal trainers. These guys have the sweet spot – not medically trained but able to dish out health information that the public is consuming in bucket loads. Risk is lower but revenue is higher. Many are excellent. Too many are absolute tosh – attractive people that we like to look at but are giving the wrong advice with not so much as an online certificate to their name.

So where are the physiotherapists? I hear you ask!

Mainly they are busy squirrelled away treating patients, on CPD courses, or suffocating under reporting systems. Discussing (over homemade sandwich lunches on their scant lunchbreak) about how they wish there was better information out there for the public. This leaves minimum time for articles or useful social media posts. But the biggest barrier I have observed sadly, are other physiotherapists. There has grown a culture of physio-trolling online and Twitter is infested. Physios are scared to speak up about the great treatments they have had in case someone comes at them with a text book/article/opinion that rubbishes their efforts.

All of the above factors have led to, what we call; defensive medicine.

Many patients now start questions with; ‘I know you can’t advise specifically’…before requesting information as they know that all medical advice has to be given in a slightly wishy-washy-all-bases-and-warnings-covered response. It also must be universally acknowledged that All. Humans. Are. Different. Even two people with the same condition may have that condition as a result of two different actions. A ‘one size fits all’ approach is much less effective. That’s why blogs will give general advice but recommend you see a specialist, so that your unique reason for experiencing pain is…uniquely treated.

That’s not to say that good quality online information is not useful. It is, it can help you recognise some symptoms, that will then prompt you to see a health professional and be safely assessed and treated. For many of my patients suffering with persistent pain – it means that they feel less alone.

To my colleagues brave enough to put their experience out there – I salute you! Thank you and let’s as a community be supportive of health professionals putting themselves in harm’s way to help others they might never meet.

To my readers of health information – make sure that whomever is writing is a qualified professional. Use caution even if they are, be safe and ask questions. Look for references from good quality sites; NHS/gov.uk/quality journals. And please, don’t believe the D*ily M*il. Whatever they say. Anything. Nada. Thank you.

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