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12 Jul 2019

The AMA has spoken out against people seeking medical advice online from sources found on Facebook and YouTube, following the news of one cancer patient publicly declaring that dodgy advice from such sources had almost killed him.

While it seems obvious that people should not turn to questionable online sources for medical advice, growing numbers of Australians appear to be doing exactly that – at least as a first step.

Chair of the AMA Ethics and Medico-Legal Committee Dr Chris Moy warned against seeking diagnoses and treatment through Facebook and YouTube.

“It is extremely seductive sometimes because sometimes you'll be given sort of easier options or what appears to be sort of simple options than your doctor is prescribing,” he told Radio 3AW.

“But the bottom line is that people need to open their eyes. We're talking about the Wild West there. There are no checks and balances, no accountability and even worse, even though sometimes people are giving sort of well-meaning advice, it's likely people are getting something out of it – either popularity or they're actually getting some monetary advantage out of it.

“It is actually pretty scary what can happen, and so we're just asking people to open their eyes and go to see their doctor where they're protected.”

The issue was highlighted recently with a news report of a young man inflicted with leukaemia taking something described as ‘super vitamins’ after being advised to do so by a Facebook posting. The man said the pills almost killed him.

“Quite often the options that are presented may seem just easier or natural or, you know, common sense. But the problem is that sometimes these natural therapies can actually have side effects,” Dr Moy said.

“The other thing is that it's often the delay in treatment. For example, you might have a symptom and go ‘oh well, this seems simple, I'll take the advice of Facebook’, and it turns out that this treatment actually delays you seeing a doctor, which actually means there's a delay in treatment and it could be something as bad as picking up the cancer. And that may make the difference.”


Published: 12 Jul 2019