An important commentary by IDPodcasts’ editor-in-chief and USF Division of Infectious Diseases Professor, Dr. Richard L. Oehler, has now been published online in the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s flagship journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases.
The “Viewpoints” article, entitled, “On Measles, Vaccination, Social Media Activism, and How to Win Back Our Role as our Patients’ Best Advocates,” is awaiting publication in the print version of the journal.
The article’s focus is about how the recent decline in vaccination rates has led to multiple outbreaks of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases across the US in 2019. This is surprising, Dr. Oehler notes, “when you consider that less than two decades ago, in 2000, measles was declared eliminated in all 50 states.” Unfortunately, since then, an erosion in public confidence about vaccines and a great resurgence in active measles cases has occurred. At the core of this trend, he writes, is a “perfect storm” of factors:
“The rise of the internet, and the availability of easily accessible but often inaccurate and poorly vetted health information have emboldened patients to make their own medical decisions apart from their provider.” Dr. Oehler explains. “At the same time, the emergence of online social media has permitted like-minded lay people to share online health-related opinions and to engage in healthcare activism. These opinions are magnified in an online echo chamber that has drowned out the voices of a physician community that is often unprepared for communicating in modern ways.”
It is well past time, Dr. Oehler surmises, for the medical community to regain its voice, using smart and sensible tools suitable for the modern era of smartphones and twitter. In his commentary, the author suggests several accessible ways that the medical community can develop its own influencers, bolster and cultivate its own online presence, and leverage social media in positive ways–thus restoring our influential role as our patients’ best advocates.
“Few practicing physicians have heard of Felix Kjellberg, Logan Paul, or Liza Koshy,” Dr. Oehler notes, “but each of these social media celebrities are online superstars known to vast numbers of people worldwide. When either ‘PewDiePie,’ ‘Logan,’ or ‘Liza‘ tweets an idea, promotes a brand, or practices online activism, literally tens of millions of people listen and act. With the exception of a few celebrity media figures (perhaps Bill Nye or Neil Degrasse-Tyson) and physician reporters (Dr. Sanjay Gupta), why can’t the scientific/medial community develop and cultivate more celebrity communicators and online influencers to promote vaccination and other ideas we’re trying to get across to the public? The social media accounts of even major medical organizations can have one-tenth of the followers or less of some accounts run by activist moms from their kitchen counters.”
In addition to his USF teaching responsibilities and editorial responsibilities at IDPodcasts, Dr. Oehler is also a full-time practicing infectious diseases clinician at the James A Haley Veterans Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center, and the father of two teenagers. “I get plenty of social media exposure [as a parent],” Dr. Oehler asserts.
Dr. Oehler’s publication can be accessed here.