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Questions to ask yourself before giving medical advice on Facebook

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

I’m often startled by the medical advice that people give to their friends on Facebook.

Sometimes it takes the form of saying, “You should do this,” but often it’s more subtle and simply involves sharing a link.

Before people post something of this nature, I wish that they would consider the following questions:

  • Have you read the entire article that you’re linking to? I find that people often share a link because its title resonates with their own beliefs, and not because they’ve read the article and think that it makes a thoughtful contribution. If you haven’t read the article, don’t post it. Period.

  • Can you explain why you recommend this link? If you’re sharing the link, you’re recommending it in some way. Pause before you hit the “post” button to be sure that you know why you’re recommending it.

  • Are you giving advice to make you feel better about the decisions you’ve made? We all want to look back on our past decisions and think that they were the correct ones. Some people tend to give advice to others to reinforce their own decisions. Don’t.

  • Did the person request advice? People generally share health news on Facebook because they want to let their friends know what’s going on and to generate support. If they don’t specifically request advice, don’t give it.

The Internet makes it easy to find and share medical information. Many doctors warn their patients to stay away from “Dr. Google” because so much of the information is incorrect, outdated or misleading.

My take is somewhat different. Many patients feel a greater sense of control if they’re able to do research and understand what’s likely to happen.

Advocates and clinicians can guide cancer patients to the online resources that are reliable and truly helpful.

As for our friends on Facebook, just tell us that you’re sending good thoughts and positive energy our way.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal. 

Click here for all of Bob’s columns

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