For as long as I’ve been a physio, 19 years and counting, my biggest pet peeve is how many people needlessly suffer in health because of misinformation. For me, the worst of all misinformation is one that is perpetuated by what I like to call the celebrity effect – a well-known public figure who has reach and influence over an audience who knows, likes, and trusts them, spreading and perpetuating misinformation. It makes my blood boil.
Why is this a problem? Aren’t we all entitled to our opinions? Yes, everyone can have an opinion, but having an opinion does not make you an expert. These celebrity opinions on health are seldom backed by good science, and a lot are in fact financially driven with them acting as a brand’s ambassador. Because they are on TV or in popular magazines, when they share a misinformed opinion it reaches far and wide, creates confusion and in some cases even endangers the safety of the public. I know this because I’ve had to undo the damage at my clinic, when my patients asked me about them or they were injured as a result of following these opinions.
Hold up! That sounds dire! How is that possible? This is possible because celebrities are rarely a qualified health professional and therefore have no need to act with duty of care.
” Celebrities are rarely a qualified health professional and therefore have no need to act with duty of care.“
What is duty of care? It means I have the duty to provide the best care possible, which means providing up-to-date, evidence-based information and treatment to anyone who I interact with. Anyone, not just those who book an appointment to see me at my clinic, anyone. Duty of care applies to most professionals; ever had a lawyer friend say to you, “this is not legal advice,” before they shared some insights with you? They make a disclaimer because they too, have duty of care to those they interact with. Duty of care is the responsibility of all regulated health professionals.
“These laws and regulations only apply to registered health practitioners, it does not apply to anyone else, which essentially paves a free path for unqualified people to say what they want with zero consequences.“
Duty of care is a good and necessary thing but in practice can make it very hard for those who can best help you to actually help you unless it is under specific circumstances, such as in a patient-practitioner only private consultation. Anything outside of a formal consult setting is very difficult. Let me give you an example. Say you have a question about an injury and you are not sure how to go about it. You tag me, other health professional friends, people you know have had similar issues in your Facebook post asking for help. Here’s what happens for me to try and help you: because I have duty of care to anyone I interact with on a topic that I’m an expert on, even though you are not officially my patient, even though it’s just a casual social media post, I have a duty of care to you. So to answer your tag, I first write a lengthy disclaimer stating that without having seen and assessed you in person, I can only share general information; I then try to list all possible scenarios to cover all bases that could apply to you without knowing the specifics; I then make numerous urges that you really should go and see a professional yourself, and finally I will get to share the relevant info on the subject matter. And by the time it’s been drafted, it is re-read, scrutinised, re-read, and scrutinised again. The next you know, an hour (minimum) is gone! When I finally post a reply, there will be a couple of questions that ensue and you repeat this whole process again. Why not ignore these ensuing questions? Because of duty of care! And I also personally think it’s rude to ignore them. In the effort to make replying to these tags for help more efficient I’ve even made “standard replies” in my Evernote app!
” 3 easy steps to help you scrutinise any opinion.“
What can you do to protect yourself? How do you tell the expert opinion from a general opinion? Here’re a few things you can do, in fact, this is a good way to scrutinise any opinion, whether health related or not.
- Ask yourself “Who is this person telling me this and what is their qualification?” – People who have papers and letters will let you know, see that B. Phty in my signature below? It’s there for a reason. I also urge my fellow health professionals to do the same as best practice.
- Ask yourself “Does this person set to gain anything from endorsing this opinion?” – Instagram recently made it essential for any paid partnership posts to be labelled as such and it is a most welcomed change to improve transparency.
- Do your own research, learn from credible sources, form your own opinion. – Use government sites, university sites, and sites maintained by qualified health professionals. Remember, just because something comes up at the top of a Google search, does not make it legit.
Selina is a singer-composer-physiotherapist based in Brisbane, Australia. She is the director of MoveMedics and its sister brands: Voice Physio & Pole Physio. She is passionate about dispelling misinformation, simplifying healthcare, and empowering people with evidence-based knowledge for healthy and pain-free living. She enjoys running, attempting handstands, and publishes music under her nom de plume, Asirus.