April 28, 2009

What if every pediatrician was on twitter?

Is the absence of pediatricians on social media platforms a public health issue for children? It might be. Misinformation predisposes children to risk. We all can identify instances where poor decisions for a child were made on corrupt information obtained online.

And as doctors we complain. We see ourselves as victims. Our patients are reading someone else’s information and opinion. And most of us handle matters by taking precious time to get the facts straight. Time that could be better spent on anticipatory guidance or counseling in other areas.

But to some extent the issue of bad information is our responsibility.

As pediatricians our response to online misinformation tends to be reactive. For some reason we never think that we should be the ones generating the information and dialogue. As the group charged with the well-being of the next generation we need to be proactive. We have a commitment to see to it that we are visible and vocal online.

So what can you as a fellow of the AAP do?

Contribute to a blog. It doesn’t have to be your own blog. There are many that would be happy to host you as a guest author. Offer practical input on the issues that you see creating confusion in your parent base. If every fellow of the AAP posted one blog post annually on the absent association between vaccines and autism, for example, there would be 60,000 online entries which would likely dominate search engines.

Comment regularly on news sites, blogs or anywhere there’s dialog on children’s health. With no input from those of us with the facts, discussion will be dominated by a vocal minority, many of whom have an agenda not representing the interests of the parental reader.

Begin a Twitter account. Just a few minutes a day cultivating relationships with peers, patients and ‘followers’, AAP fellows have the potential to change minds and influence thinking. Twitter is a platform for the dissemination of ideas, thoughts and information in ‘tweets’ of 140 characters. Assuming just 250 followers (I have 1,000), the news of a measles outbreak associated with undervaccination, for example, could instantly reach 15 million individuals with a single tweet from AAP members.

The battle for the health of our children and the sanity of our parents is now fought online. A commitment to online literacy through active involvement by AAP Fellows in social media should be seen as a critical advocacy role.

By Bryan Vartbedian, MD, FAAP