Medicine struggles with the digital age
Doctors, researchers, and other serious medical professionals haven’t raced to participate on social media.
Still, the coronavirus pandemic forced individuals and groups to reckon with the pros and cons of presenting online information — and misinformation.
Just as in “real life,” patients must take the time to investigate medical personnel, their credentials, experience, practice, and pertinent comments before heeding and spreading anything the providers say on social media.
The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians are among the many well-known professional groups that have provided members with ethics guidelines or advisories on social media use.
The AMA reminds members to observe fundamentals, such as respecting patients and their privacy and ensuring their accuracy, timeliness, and responsibility in offering medical information via social media. Doctors must exercise great care in direct patient interactions online and via social media, the group warns.
During the pandemic, of course, some doctors undertook nothing less than sketchy social media activities, fueling what critics assailed as a politicization and degradation of science, medicine, and the value of rigorous evidence in policy- and decision-making. MDs made bold pronouncements about treatments, disease, and prevention without disclosing their lack of specialization and therapeutic experience. Misinformation or disinformation became problematic with the power of social media to spread it.
In a time of a shambolic federal response to an outbreak that would cost more than 1 million lives, regular folks found themselves caught in a veritable crossfire. Purported medical experts popped up. With little or no evidence, they called for drugs and other treatments that rigorous research would later prove to be unhelpful or even harmful.
In the meantime, doctors and medical researchers with formidable experience have found new nightmares with social media. The technology has allowed individuals and groups to bully and threaten clinicians — and patients, too.
The medical profession, regulators, and lawmakers have a shaky record on disciplining problem personnel, including with doctors who went out of bounds during the pandemic. The Washington Post reported finding at least 480 formal complaints with state medical boards about physicians and coronavirus misinformation. Of those cases, the news organization found 20 instances in which doctors were penalized. California lawmakers’ efforts to push the state medical board to crack down on physician misinformation or disinformation via social media have been challenged with free-speech lawsuits.
Giving it a rest: Sound sleep needs screen timeouts
Just say no. That catch phrase, originally coined for an anti-drug campaign headed by First Lady Nancy Reagan, also captures experts’ views about the use of electronic screens, social media, and other tech in the hour before sleep.
The independent, nonpartisan RAND Corporation has estimated that sleeplessness and poor sleep are a big problem in this country, costing more than $400 billion in lost productivity and harms to our health and well-being. As researchers for the Santa Monica, Calif., think tank have reported:
“Sleep is a fundamental, biological necessity, like the need for food and water.”
But experts say that electronic devices — such as consoles, tablets, and smart phones — have invaded the precious time for the body to recuperate and build with sound slumber.
Grownups and kids alike break up the calm needed for restful sleep by over-stimulating themselves with broadcasts, recordings, video games, texts, emails, and social media.
The Sleep Foundation blames the bedtime hyperactivity, in part, on FOMO — fear of missing out:
“Social media presents us with endless opportunities for interaction, yet only so much time in the day. FOMO is one response to this dilemma, characterized by a never-ending desire to stay connected to what others are doing and seeing … Fear of missing out is real, and learning to cope with feelings of anxiety can help you fall asleep rather than impulsively check your social media.”
The foundation and other experts agree that families should shut down screens at a regular time each night, roughly an hour before adults and kids go to sleep. Don’t keep e-screens too handy in the bedroom, increasing the temptation to turn them on. Do silence devices so they don’t light up or beep (say, with notices of incoming messages or information). Keep the snooze area cool, dark, and quiet.
The American Heart Association recently has added sleep as a key component of its recommended ways to stay healthy and live long and well. The group advises that adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep nightly. Youngsters need more sleep than grownups do, and teens struggle to get their nightly rest but it is a must for them to thrive, RAND experts note.