Med­i­cal myth­busters

Lo­cal doc­tors band to­gether to bust med­i­cal mis­con­cep­tions on so­cial me­dia.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By ANGELIN YEOH [email protected]­

BACK in 2016, Dr Khairul Hafidz Alkhair no­ticed that there were a lot of half-truths on health spread­ing widely on so­cial me­dia. On Face­book, he has seen users share un­ver­i­fied health tips or sug­gest do-it-your­self treat­ments that are more harm­ful than good.

“I say half-truths be­cause it starts with the cor­rect in­for­ma­tion but then the rea­son­ings are all wrong. That’s when I de­cided to jump in and start giv­ing peo­ple the right in­for­ma­tion,” he said.

Dr Khairul Hafidz cre­ated a per­sonal Twit­ter ac­count, @khair­ul_hafidz, so any­one can ask him a gen­eral health re­lated ques­tion.

He be­gan by tak­ing on pop­u­lar mis­con­cep­tions and even en­coun­tered ques­tions such as, “will show­er­ing at night cause wa­ter to en­ter the lung”.

He said once he ex­plained the ac­tual causes of wa­ter in the lung, the per­son un­der­stood that it can­not be caused by some­thing as sim­ple as show­er­ing at night.

Some have also tweeted that on oc­ca­sions they were un­able to move after wak­ing up – this scary ex­pe­ri­ence is usu­ally blamed on a spirit press­ing down or sit­ting on the per­son, prevent­ing him or her from mov­ing.

“I’ll tell them that this could be due to sleep paral­y­sis. Your brain is still ac­tive dur­ing rest so it tries to sig­nal parts of your body like your hands or feet. But be­cause the body is still rest­ing, you feel it’s dif­fi­cult to move,” he said.

Dr Khairul Hafidz said he has ex­pe­ri­enced it him­self and it usu­ally oc­curs when a per­son is feel­ing phys­i­cally tired.

“Your body wants to re­lax but some­how your mind re­mains ac­tive,” he said.

He also noted that some be­lieved that con­sum­ing ice can cause cer­vi­cal can­cer and his an­swer is: “Ice can’t en­ter your or­gans and trig­ger such an ef­fect.”

And some­times he gets asked if a per­son can still grow taller – he said he will ask for the per­son’s age be­fore re­spond­ing, as growth is not a life­long process.

When he started get­ting 100 ques­tions a day on Twit­ter, Dr Khairul Hafidz re­alised that he needed to get more doc­tors to join his cause in com­bat­ing med­i­cal myths. He also cre­ated the hash­tag #MedTweetMy for track­ing progress.

Dr Khairul Hafidz said there is a lack of med­i­cal web­sites in Ba­hasa Malaysia.

“Some feel that we should have an of­fi­cial web­site but com­mu­ni­ca­tion is more fluid on so­cial me­dia. It’s also the best way to reach out to more peo­ple,” he added.

Join­ing forces

To­day, the of­fi­cial #MedTweetMy Twit­ter ac­count – @MedTweet­MYHQ – has over 49,000 fol­low­ers and is run by a col­lec­tive of over 40 Malaysian doc­tors from var­i­ous fields, in­clud­ing den­tistry, on­col­ogy and aes­thetic medicine.

Dr Afida So­hana Awang Soh, an ob­ste­tri­cian and gy­nae­col­o­gist, said she was in­stantly drawn to the cause of #MedTweetMy.

“We have the same vi­sion – we wanted to bust those med­i­cal myths. Some are very shock­ing and quite wor­ri­some. It hit me harder as even my own mom was shar­ing these in­for­ma­tion,” she said.

Dr Afida So­hana said she will take the time to an­swer at least 10 ques­tions posed by users on her Twit­ter ac­count (@Afi­daSo­hana) in a week.

“I’ll do what I can dur­ing lunch time. With some ques­tions, you re­ally need the time to come up with proper an­swers,” she said.

One of the most pop­u­lar ques­tions that she has been asked is about eat­ing pla­cen­tas, as it’s a com­mon be­lief that its con­sump­tion can help women re­cover from child­birth and even pre­vent post-par­tum de­pres­sion.

There are many YouTube videos of users shar­ing their ex­pe­ri­ences and one even

With #MedTweetMy, we have a plat­form to help peo­ple by shar­ing the right in­for­ma­tion. Dr Khairul Hafidz

We have the same vi­sion – we wanted to bust those med­i­cal myths. Some are very shock­ing and quite wor­ri­some. Dr Afida So­hana

shows how to blend pla­centa into a smoothie.

How­ever, Dr Afida So­hana doesn’t rec­om­mend it. In a Twit­ter thread, she cited a re­port by the US Cen­ters of Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion to ex­plain how ba­bies can con­tract bac­te­rial in­fec­tion from moth­ers who con­sumed pla­centa.

Skin­care is an­other pop­u­lar topic on so­cial me­dia, says Dr Aris Fadzil­lah Ma­zlan (@drar­is­fadzil­lah). The aes­thetic and an­ti­age­ing doc­tor, who has over 30,000 fol­low­ers on so­cial me­dia, said users to­day are very for­tu­nate.

“Back then, if I had skin prob­lems and needed a so­lu­tion, I would have to see a doc­tor and pay a con­sul­ta­tion fee. #MedTweetMy al­lows peo­ple to reach out to med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers freely and con­ve­niently,” he said.

Bit­ter pill

Not ev­ery­one is a fan of #MedTweetMy, par­tic­u­larly those who sell prod­ucts with un­sub­stan­ti­ated claims. And most use so­cial me­dia to pro­mote their prod­ucts to prospec­tive buy­ers, with many claim­ing that they are able to cure ail­ments of all sorts.

Dr Khairul Hafidz de­clined to name the brands as this could po­ten­tially get him into le­gal trou­ble but hoped that sell­ers will be more mind­ful about mak­ing claims.

“Ac­cord­ing to a guide­line is­sued by the Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Ser­vices Pro­gramme un­der the Health Min­istry, prod­ucts can­not be ad­ver­tised to cure or pre­vent 20 med­i­cal con­di­tions and this in­cludes di­a­betes, asthma, can­cer and im­po­tence,” he said.

“Right now there are a lot of sell­ers who claim that their prod­ucts can cure or pre­vent such ail­ments and some users be­lieve these prod­ucts will help. When I see a prod­uct mak­ing too many claims with­out ev­i­dence­based re­search, I will re­ject it.”

Users should not sim­ply take the prod­ucts as some could be harm­ful to their health.

“If you speak to my col­leagues in the emer­gency depart­ment like Dr Rafi­dah Ab­dul­lah who is a nephrol­o­gist (kid­ney spe­cial­ist), you will hear a lot of crazy sto­ries,” said Dr Afida So­hana.

Dr Rafi­dah (@rafi­dah72) has been vo­cal on so­cial me­dia about the dan­gers of such prod­ucts and she ad­vo­cates against tak­ing them with­out a doc­tor’s rec­om­men­da­tion.

Not sur­pris­ingly, her rec­om­men­da­tions drew flak from some sell­ers who feared her com­ments would jeop­ar­dise their liveli­hoods.

And then there are those who of­fer tips, es­pe­cially on beauty and weight loss. Dr Aris Fadzil­lah said he has seen users post­ing tips on get­ting beau­ti­ful skin with in­gre­di­ents such as cin­na­mon pow­der, ap­ple cider vine­gar and rice wa­ter, and these tips usu­ally go vi­ral. Cin­na­mon pow­der, for ex­am­ple, could cause burns if ap­plied to the skin in ex­ces­sive amounts, he said.

“Peo­ple want some­thing easy. And such tips are bound to at­tract peo­ple’s at­ten­tion, more than posts ask­ing them to con­sult a doc­tor,” he said.

There are also some top­ics that the doc­tors have to be sen­si­tive about such as tra­di­tional medicine and prac­tices. Med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers who ques­tion tra­di­tional be­liefs will in­vite a lot of crit­i­cism even in a mod­ern age, said Dr Khairul Hafidz.

Such top­ics have to be ap­proached with ex­tra care and cau­tion, he added.

The real deal

Though #MedTweetMy helps com­bat med­i­cal myths in the hope of stop­ping the spread of mis­in­for­ma­tion, doc­tors can­not of­fer med­i­cal di­ag­noses on so­cial me­dia, said Dr Khairul Hafidz, who hopes that users will see a doc­tor in real life when faced with an ill­ness.

“To di­ag­nose a per­son you need to see him or her face-to-face. You can’t make a di­ag­no­sis from just a sen­tence on Twit­ter, as you need to ex­am­ine the per­son,” said Dr Afida So­hana.

Dr Aris Fadzil­lah said it’s not un­com­mon for users to tweet #MedTweetMy with images of, say, a skin con­di­tion, in the hopes of get­ting a di­ag­no­sis.

“I can’t give a med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis based on an im­age, as it goes against our prac­tice,” said Dr Aris Fadzil­lah.

Dr Khairul Hafidz added that one of #MedTweetMy aims is also about ad­dress­ing peo­ple’s fear of see­ing doc­tors.

“I think pa­tients are scared about get­ting scolded by a doc­tor. I have told my peers that the way we talk to our pa­tients has to change. We need to make them feel com­fort­able about com­ing to see us,” he said.

Nowa­days most peo­ple tend to di­ag­nose them­selves by search­ing Google, he said, which has changed the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween doc­tors and pa­tients.

“We’re see­ing a new way of con­sul­ta­tion now. A pa­tient who has Googled his or her symp­toms sees the doc­tor to dis­cuss what he or she has learned. For me, Googling or learn­ing about your symp­toms on­line is good be­cause it cre­ates a sense of ur­gency to see the doc­tor,” he said.

“Then you should let the doc­tor do what is nec­es­sary to con­firm or con­tra­dict your fears.”

#MedTweetMy al­lows peo­ple to reach out to med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers freely and con­ve­niently. Dr Aris Fadzil­lah


Two in­fo­graph­ics shared by #MedTweetMy – one de­bunks com­mon health myths and the other lists ill­nesses that sup­ple­ments can­not claim to pre­vent or cure.

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