“Can’t we try giving him stem cells?” “What about essential oils?” “I was watching Dr. Oz…”
Desperate families often ask me for medical miracles, in a variety of guises. They’ve heard just enough about stem cells to think they cure everything. Those more distrusting of Western medicine turn to alternative therapies when the body has exhausted its limits. But no, the oils will not accomplish what the chemo could not and you can’t just pop in a few stem cells and fix everything. Their desperation starts with the slow decline of a loved one. If a caring physician walks them through the medical pathophysiology of disease and translates the newest research into plain English, their fears might be replaced with reasonable expectations and a valid treatment plan. Instead, the internet pours gasoline onto the fire.
The internet and its treasure trove of pseudoscience websites feeds their misplaced hopes. Dr. Oz and his ilk hype unproven supplements while conspiracy theorists claim big pharma is hiding the cure to cancer. Who fights against the news pollution on the internet? Most doctors flee from social media, either from a lack of familiarity or the belief that it’s no place for a physician. If we don’t speak out on social media, if we don’t have our own websites to provide quality content, who will? Without physicians contributing accurate scientific information and translating it for lay people, what will most people read instead? Garbage.
And so patients continue to go online, searching for any scrap of hope in the form of an outlandish and unproven cure. Can we blame them for believing in magical stem cells when we have given them so few alternative sources of reliable data? I implore any reasonable physician willing to devote even a few minutes of time to establish an online presence. State your opinion on the controversies in your specialty. Comment on supplements and alternative therapies. Give the world something to read other than drivel and hype. Otherwise, we must accept that fact the patients will continue to believe what they read and right now they’re reading fairy tales.Tweet