Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Inspiring Change Through Social Media: Our Moral Responsibility in 140 Characters or Less

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology (NACCT). This is the annual conference of the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology (AACT), a multidisciplinary organization focused on all things related to treatment and management of toxins, and offers plenty of opportunities for education and research related to clinical toxicology. It is certainly worth attending this conference, and if you have a strong interest in and/or practice in the specialty and ever have the opportunity to attend, I highly recommend it.

The keynote speaker for this year's meeting was Sandra de Castro Buffington, founding director of the Global Media Center for Social Impact, and the theme for the presentation was "Sparking Storylines: Improving Health and Well-Being Through TV, Film and New Media." During her presentation, she provided several examples and mechanisms in which healthcare providers can dispel misconceptions and bring to light health-related story lines through these media to the general public. It was a worthy presentation, and for me at least, it certainly served as a reminder that our responsibility to the service in healthcare extends beyond the patient care at the bedside to the mass general public in raising education and awareness of issues related to healthcare. There were several questions raised regarding application of some of these principles in the field of clinical toxicology, and it generated a good discussion.

Little did any of us attending the presentation know that we would be applying some of the principles shared during the session at the conference itself only a mere 24 hours later.

The next day, I attended the AACT Acute and Intensive Care Symposium, a session held on an annual basis at the meeting. The session features case presentations by toxicologist fellows-in-training, and a series of questions are posed to an expert panel of toxicologists related to management of the patient case. This year, audience members were encouraged to tweet their questions to the moderators in addition to asking questions at the microphones placed at the center aisles of the room to help further the discussion along.

One of the cases presented featured a bizarre and tragic case of hyperacute sodium toxicity in a pediatric patient occurring as a result of the caregiver administering a sea salt slurry as homeopathic therapy for constipation. The caregiver followed instructions posted on the website livestrong.com, and as the case unfolded with the consequential effects occurring in this patient, we were captivated by the recounted events leading to the untimely death of the patient. If you followed the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag NACCT15 (#NACCT15), what you may have witnessed was only a fraction of the heated emotion generated in the room full of us audience members. The presenter shared one important tidbit of information – the administrators of the Livestrong website were contacted regarding the information posted on the site that led to the patient’s death, but no response was provided…at least at the time leading up to the very presentation.

What happened next can aptly be described below:




We were just doing our part; perhaps we figured that all the tweets, comments, re-tweets, favorites, and shares would spark the attention (and Twitter notifications) of the moderator of the Livestrong Twitter account…and potentially the administrators of the website itself. Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that the information provided within the post was purportedly written by none other than an individual with no background, training, or expertise in the medical field.

What happened after that was nothing short of remarkable (take notice of the date and time):



The folk(s) behind the Livestrong Twitter account quickly followed up this tweet with requests for credentialed medical professionals to provide freelance work in reviewing content posted on this and other affiliated websites.

As I recall these events in this reflective piece, I will be honest and admit that I still get goosebumps. Yes, at the surface, it may seem that this was the most logical thing to do at the time. As the saying goes, strength does come in numbers. In this example, it is clear that the mounting pressure on social media to the company led to an immediate action and change, all in the name of not only re-emphasizing the importance of consulting with a medical professional regarding any information claimed to be health-related shared in the vast Interweb, but also our moral and social obligation in preventing future harm to the members of the general public – yes, the very same community of individuals with whom we grow and thrive with in this thing called life.

Let’s do this.

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