As published by the California Medical Association on Medium.
I have dedicated over 21 years to the medical education, training, and clinical practice necessary to become an expert in health care. In medical school and residency, we are taught to use standards developed through research and data to guide care. As a board-certified obstetrician gynecologist with additional fellowship training, I have done all I can do to educate myself and prepare to practice medicine. An essential part of being a physician also includes advocating for patients and speaking out against the increasing threat of misinformation.
Over the years, I have worked to combat the propaganda and legislative interference that is an obstacle to practicing medicine. I joined the California Medical Association (CMA) to further my advocacy efforts and help protect medical practice and patients from political and societal influences that are not evidence-based.
Residency, fellowship, and even years of practicing medicine did not prepare me for the battle of science vs pseudoscience in the court of public opinion. While we know that doctors are considered to be honest/ethical and other professions score lower in public confidence (Gallup poll conducted December 3–12, 2018), we continue to be pitted against non-medical politicians in the ongoing war between politics and science.
Online forums have become an important front in this struggle between fact and fiction. Unfortunately, large tech companies, which have become a primary source of information for millions of people, have shown they are willing to buckle under political pressure, even at the expense of medical fact. Just last week, I was alarmed to learn about the actions taken by Facebook in response to pressure from members of Congress.
A dangerously inaccurate video was posted to Facebook claiming there are no medically necessary abortions. Subsequently, Facebook asked the fact-checking site Health Feedback to review the video. Physicians confirmed the fact that medically necessary abortions do exist and posted this medically accurate information. So far, so good: at least a statement by trained medical professionals was present with the video to help counteract the potentially dangerous misinformation. Unfortunately, a letter from anti-abortion U.S. Senators convinced Facebook to remove the fact-check done by the medical professionals, and the medically inaccurate video was left in place.
I wish these senators could hear our patients’ stories.
Regardless of specialty, no matter how many years we have been in practice, all doctors have patients they cannot forget. As an obstetrician, I have the privilege of caring for pregnant patients and their families at critical and often joyous times. Most outcomes are good, but not all of them. I will never forget my patient Sammie (name changed). As a second-year resident, I met Sammie and her family for the first time in the intensive care unit. It was her first pregnancy. Her pregnancy had been going well until she became ill. A severe infection was killing her and she had been transported to our hospital overnight due to sepsis after her original hospital was unable to provide the care she needed. With impending organ failure, the only hope to save her life was to end the pregnancy. We were able to perform the abortion and Sammie lived. I have no doubt she would have died had we not ended her pregnancy.
As a result of my experience with Sammie and her family, I have become an advocate for my patients and their right to choose what is best for their lives and families. My advocacy journey led me to becoming a member of the CMA because I know we all have patient stories that need to be shared.
Armed with extensive training, science-based expertise, and countless patient stories, physicians should be driving the practice of medicine — not social media, not politicians. The spread of erroneous information through social media is a real threat to our patients. Factually inaccurate information is widely disseminated and disguised as truth. In California, for example, we see this kind of misinformation fueling the anti-vaccination movement. The anti-vaccine movement is rooted in conspiracy and anecdotal stories while completely ignoring the preponderance of scientific evidence. Physicians have been at the forefront of the battle with the anti-vaccine movement, but are not being heard.
Instead, we are marginalized and censored. Our challenge has become more pronounced with the rise of social media, and an alarming lack of factual accuracy in information that is available to the public. What can we do in the medical community to stop dangerous information from compromising our care? As a first step, Facebook must repost the fact-check. Moving forward, I encourage all physicians to advocate for your patients and fight the misinformation. Advocacy on a local level is essential, but state organizations such as the CMA and national organizations like the American Medical Association (AMA) are critical to stopping the dangerous spread of misinformation.
It is against the law to practice medicine without a license because it is dangerous. Help protect the practice of medicine by insisting Facebook return the fact-check and continue to support CMA, AMA and other advocacy efforts to ensure that the public is receiving accurate medical information rather than politically-motivated propaganda.