Believing false medical data can lead to serious problems

We have heard of the damage caused by fake news in the political arena. What needs to be highlighted is the damage done when false medical information is circulated on the Internet (Dr Google is a liar; Dec 18);

It is alarming to hear of patients who have rejected statin treatment for their high cholesterol after reading medical misinformation on the Internet, leading them to fear the side effects. The article highlighted the increased incidence of heart attacks when patients stopped taking the cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Fears over the apparent side effects of vaccines have caused many children to get diphtheria, polio and whooping cough in many countries.

Patients who opted for alternative treatments for cancer, as championed on the Internet, have been found to be at an increased risk of death.

A common ailment such as hypertension, which can be controlled easily with long-term medication, has resulted in many, who believe in herbs and exercise to control their blood pressure, ending up with medical complications such as strokes and other cardiovascular problems,

The public should be made more aware of evidence-based treatment. Such treatments are employed after rigorously conducted studies, supported by statistically significant conclusions.

Believing all that they read on social media and the Internet about illnesses and their treatments has caused many to be led astray. The consequences are serious and should be addressed.

Those who are directly or indirectly responsible for propagating medical misinformation should correct the situation. It is easy to press the "forward" button to share the misinformation with others, albeit with good intentions in most cases. But let us be conscious that the damage can be tremendous and preventable health problems could end up as medical disasters.

Companies that control search engines should realise their responsibilities in this matter, otherwise much blood would be on their hands.

Quek Koh Choon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2018, with the headline 'Believing false medical data can lead to serious problems'. Print Edition | Subscribe