Session highlighted positive role of social media in promoting health awareness
Doctors have emphasized that social media is a double-edged sword in a World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) 2020 session - as while it can help promote health awareness, it can also be used as a tool to spread rumors and misinformation.
The discussion, which took place on the first day of the virtual summit, was titled Using Social Media to Promote Better Health Outcomes in the Arabic-Speaking World, and brought together doctors from the Gulf region.
During the session, panelists addressed how social media can improve access to health information, and how institutions and individuals can benefit from the opportunities provided by these platforms, changing attitudes and behaviors to bring about positive change in Arab societies.
Dr. Nawal Al-Sharji, a consultant general surgeon from Oman, said: “Individuals often turn to the internet to find solutions to health problems that they may face. However, I stress the importance of having doctors on social media who can reduce misinformation and direct people to reliable sources that contain correct information.
“And I want to encourage doctors on social media to simplify information for the community, making sure that it is based on evidence.”
But we should be wary, as anyone can share information
According to Dr. Al-Sharji, because of COVID-19, many people have begun to rely on telemedicine – which enables health providers to care for patients remotely. This has helped to reduce the number of patients in hospitals, and limit the spread of the virus.
"It is a useful tool, if used in the right place at the right time and with the right patient,” Dr. Al- Al-Sharji said. “However, if someone has severe symptoms, or requires emergency treatment, we cannot rely on telemedicine.
“Additionally, despite the importance of this tool in the Arab world, there may be elderly people who are not accustomed to electronic devices or the internet, and may prefer to see a doctor face-to-face.”
Dr. Muhammad Al-Banna, Consultant Cardiac Surgeon, and Head of the Cardiac Surgery Unit at Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Hospital in Kuwait, said studies have shown that a high percentage of people who use the internet, use it for medical reasons. And that many people believe that social media channels are reliable sources of information.
“In this sense, it can be an effective way to promote public health and disseminate information. But we should be wary, as anyone can share information. For this reason, it has become imperative for doctors to address sources of wrong medical information.”
It is important that doctors provide the correct information, from reliable sources, and it should be evidence based
Dr. Al-Banna pointed out that doctors must become more influential in society. “If we want to affect society and spread health awareness, the way to achieve this is through social media.”
Dr. Jassim Fakhro, a consultant obesity and robotic surgeon at Hamad Medical Corporation, also believes it is important for doctors to have a presence on social media, saying: “Information on the internet, such as advertisements for medicines or the promotion of products, can lead to problems. It is important that doctors provide the correct information, from reliable sources, and it should be evidence based.”
Dr. Fakhro explained that it is also important for doctors on social media to be aware of different cultures. “Addressing the public in Qatar may be different from addressing an audience in another country,” he said.
“As we know, cultures and customs differ in many countries – so something may be said that is not clear in another country. Therefore, it is also important to know and understand the audience that is being addressed.”
WISH is Qatar Foundation’s global health initiative, and this year’s summit – held under the theme One World Our Health – is taking place from November 15-19. Free to attend, interested participants can register at 2020.wish.org.qa