How to spot dodgy medical advice on social media

Here are the red flags to look out for

By Jenny Cook

You probably don’t need us to tell you that not everything you see on social media is true, especially when it comes to medical guidance. But, that being said, the likes of Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram remain go-to sites for people looking for answers to various health-related questions – and it’s often hard to tell the difference between sound advice and down-right dangerous recommendations.

For example, research by Northwestern University found that just 18% of cosmetic procedures posted on Instagram come from certified professionals – meaning there’s a high chance that a lot of what you’re seeing in the ‘explore’ section isn’t legitimate. So – although we would never recommend undergoing any sort of medical treatment purely based on social media posts – Dr Jan Schaefer, Chief Medical Officer at MEDIGO, has shared some of the red flags to look out for when looking at cosmetic procedures online…

Dodgy hashtags

One of the most obvious signs on social media that a provider might not be certified are the hashtags they use, says Dr Schaefer. “For example, you usually won’t find a surgeon advertising breast enhancement surgery with #boobjob, as that shows a lack of professionalism. Instead, a surgeon might use #breastaugmentation, that is, if they use any hashtag at all.”

Unrealistic captions

Another warning sign is no post-treatment steps being mentioned or listed. “The key word in any surgery, whether cosmetic or not, is ‘surgery’. The body needs time to heal, and the surgeon should detail what a patient should do to ensure a smooth healing process, as well as provide a realistic timeline. If a social media post mentions that a patient looked like their ‘after’ photo a day after surgery, it is a red flag.”

Sliding into your DMs…

If a conversation begins between a provider and a potential patient, it is important that all aspects of the chosen procedure are addressed accordingly. “If you find that the surgeon is avoiding your important questions, such as: what does the procedure involve? How long will it take to heal? Then it is a clear sign that they should be avoided. Another red flag that you might spot when speaking to the provider is that they assure you a procedure has ‘no risks’. In any medical procedure, there is always a risk, even if it is relatively small.”

What to do

First of all, and most importantly, understand that you simply can’t get all the information you need from someone’s Instagram feed – especially when it comes to a medical procedure. For example, social media can’t answer simple questions, like ‘what happens during the surgery?’, ‘How long will it take to recover?’ or ‘what is the post-treatment plan?’. Be sure to ask a professional these questions in person before signing up to anything, and ALWAYS see your GP for guidance.

It’s also vital that you do some serious and thorough research that goes beyond scrolling through your newsfeed. Even if a surgeon is the real deal, it’s unlikely that they’ll list their full credentials on every post – so it’s up to you to look into what options best suit your needs. Some questions to ask yourself during research are:

  • What qualifications and accreditations does the surgeon have?
  • Are these relevant for the procedure I want?
  • How experienced are they at performing this specific procedure?
  • What are other patients saying about it?
  • Where can I find the reviews of the surgeon, and are they reliable?

Patients should ask all of the right questions before committing to surgery, and not rely on any single source before making a decision that can impact their health.

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