People need to open their eyes about online medical advice, according to Dr Chris Moy, Chairman of the AMA's Ethics and Medico-Legal Committee and AMA South Australia President.
Dr Moy was speaking to Radio 3AW in Melbourne following reports of a cancer patient shunning established therapy in favour of online advice.
"Look, the bottom line is it is extremely seductive sometimes because sometimes you'll be given sort of easier options or what appears to be sort of simple options than your doctor is prescribing," said Dr Moy.
"But the bottom line is that people need to open their eyes. We're talking about the Wild West there, there are no checks and balances, no accountability and even worse, even though sometimes people are giving sort of well-meaning advice, it's likely people are getting something out of it, either popularity or they're actually getting some monetary sort of advantage out of it. It is actually pretty scary what can happen and so we're just asking people to open their eyes and go to see their doctor where they're protected."
In the case of the cancer patient who sourced treatment online, Dr Moy said, "Firstly, there is quite often the options that are presented may seem just easier or natural or, you know, common sense. But the problem is that sometimes these natural therapies can actually have side effects just as, you know, much as medications that your doctor might give you.
"But the other thing is that it's often the delay in treatment. For example, you might have a symptom and go: oh well, this seems simple, I'll just - I'll take the advice of Facebook and it turns out that this treatment actually delays you seeing a doctor, which actually means that there's a delay in treatment and it could be something as bad as picking up the cancer. And that may make the difference."
Dr Moy expressed frustration over the inability to control social media when it comes to misleading medical advice. "We can't really. We're not in a position to," he said, saying the profession's focus is on maintaining standards.
"You know that I'm supposed to be doing what's best for you, there’s privacy and there's this thing called the Code of Ethics and Professional Standards. Now, they're not sexy but they also mean that sometimes I'm going to give you bad news. For example, you come in and I say the best treatment for you is go home and get some rest. Whereas, you get on Facebook and see that you just take this simple thing but, in fact, that actually made it worse for you or actually may delay treatment and cause trouble for you later."
Dr Moy continued, "But look, we're talking about a tidal wave of really, frankly, cowboy-type advice out there, which again is often well-meaning, you know, it sounds great but the reality is that it's not based - you've got no recourse if it falls through and it turns out that either it doesn't work or actually it causes more problems or actually threatens your health."