Thanks to social media, a group of Kerala doctors creates a progressive health communication model
If you are on social media, chances are you have come across an unknown “scientific fact” or “health tip” which your doctor doesn’t tell you because he wants to earn more by giving you more drugs. This eclectic mix of “facts” vary from natural remedies for cancer-like diseases to home remedies for common cold and fever. In almost all cases, such info nuggets feed malicious misinformation and, often, most people fall prey to this, endangering their health. Infoclinic, a collective of socially committed doctors, wants to take on this trend, which they feel is alarming, especially given that in India, 28.4 per cent of the population (375 million) have access to the web internet. Of this, 10.3 per cent (136 million) are active on social media. WhatsApp, a major source of fake health news in India today, alone has over 200 million users.
A significant chunk of these messages feature anti-vaccine propaganda. Kerala which has made significant advances in basic healthcare is considered to be a role model for other states. But in recent times, the percentage of vaccination came down and there were sporadic outbreaks of diphtheria, a disease which was considered to be under control with the help of vaccination, across the state. The debate on social media on this issue was one of the primary reasons for the formation of Infoclinic, says Dr. Purushothaman, one of the senior doctors behind this initiative. The group doesn’t restrict itself to debunking anti-vaccine propaganda, it also tries to do myth busting around some of the popular misconceptions about modern medicine.
Infoclinic’s Facebook page has close to 40,000 followers and it is run by a team of 25 doctors who specialise in various fields. Their team is a blend of youth and experience, and they also use Facebook live chats and audio messages to explain queries from people across the world. Most of the posts are done in Malayalam, catering to malayalees across the globe. Some of the posts are done in English as well, however this largely addressing the malayalam speaking population at this point. Given the issues Infoclinic decides to take on, it is not easy to stay away from controversy. For instance, a recent post debunking the myth behind hijama (wet cupping) was reported for inappropriate content to Facebook and was taken down for a few days. Social media response to this was interesting, a large number of people shared a copy of the post in support for the efforts of Infoclinic.
Another crucial post was one that busted the myth around the papaya seed. Every monsoon season sees fever outbreaks in Kerala. This year also saw a rise in fever outbreaks and Infoclinic came up with a series of posts on basic care and demolished the myth around papaya seed which many think could help body reclaim lost platelets in dengue cases. This was one of their most popular FB posts.
Again, when the AYUSH ministry released an advisory recently on conceiving “healthy babies”, which advised pregnant women to stay away from sex and eat vegetarian food, Infoclinic was quick to spot how unscientific the advisory was. Their writeup on the issue took a dig not just at this advisory, but also at the right wing organizations pumping propaganda on ways to get fair and tall kids.
A notable feature of Infoclinic posts is the way it communicates with the common man. They generally start with anecdotal reference to a common scenario, and move to standard responses from the patient in the scenario and then dive into explaining the situation. You don’t need to have a science background to read and understand these posts; these are written in a way a doctor would (should) communicate to his patients. Infoclinic’s first audio podcast on children’s safety is a pleasure to listen to.
Infoclinic in their communication emphasizes on the need for ethical medical practices as well. But then, this is a question beyond the scope of a bunch of enthusiastic doctors. Modern medical practitioners often find it difficult to answer questions on vested interests of big pharma companies in healthcare. For now, Info Clinic wants to talk to as many people as they can. And the general public would love to see that their doctors are listening and talking back. It is impossible to do it physically and our country has a poor doctor-to-patient ratio despite mushrooming medical colleges. Infoclinic is leveraging the virtual space to do that and their success is encouraging.
Henry Sigerist whose famous work Socialized Medicine in Soviet Union, argued for state funded medical care wanted the world to look at medicine not just as science but an application of science which has socio political implications. Infoclinic wants to do their bit in reaching to more people and staying closer to them despite their tight schedules, Dr Purushothaman tells Number13. Are they getting closer to the idea of a “social physician protecting and guiding people” as envisaged by Sigerist? Let’s keep taking the pulse.