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Join The HealthyRT Experiment: Let’s Use Twitter To Drown Out Health Misinformation

A few days ago I published a blog post about Dr. Mehmet Oz NOT being a trustworthy source of health information. It set off a firestorm of blog comments, tweets, and Facebook sharing – all because people (like me) had developed sincere concerns about the safety of viewers who might take his advice to heart. The outpouring of commentary, and the rapidity of the response made me wonder: can we harness this power for future good? Could we counter Dr. Oz’s (and others like him) misinformation with peer-reviewed content that’s easily accessible by Twitter and Facebook?

I chatted with some colleagues and concerned patient advocates on Twitter (including @academicobgyn @scanman @hrana @AmberMBaylor @DamonRamseyMD @RyanMadanickMD @jalbietz @DrElizabethLee @FaceliftMD @goodwillstacy @PWestcott ), and we all agreed that it would be a great service to have vetted health tweets available for people to read and retweet. If enough of us were regularly engaged in retweeting sound health stories and information, we could potentially drown out the “miracle cures” and snake oil that drives us all nuts.

So how would this work?

I’d like to get a small group of volunteer experts together – healthcare professionals committed to science and common sense – and have them read and approve links before they are promoted on Twitter. I have created a new Twitter account called “HealthyRT” – the volunteer experts will have access to this account and can promote content that is medically sound. I hope that the word will be spread about this account, and people will subscribe to the feed and RT links that they find helpful. In this way, everyone on Twitter has the power to RT good health content, and it takes very little effort for retweeters to be engaged.

Now, there is no guarantee that the feed will be perfect (no peer-review process is) but every effort will be made to ensure that it is not used for self-promotion or that the standards lapse over time. If there are any concerns, people can direct message the HealthyRT team and we’ll keep us on the straight and narrow with the help of the crowd (as it were).

This experiment could fail or peter out… or it may become the greatest anti-snake oil strategy in Internet history. It all depends on the commitment of the reviewers and the extent of our subscriber base. But I’m willing to give it a try… and I hope you are too!

Anyone interested in becoming a HealthyRT reviewer, please email me directly: val-dot-jones at

Everyone who’d like to help to promote good health content – and drown out the bad – please subscribe to HealthyRT and retweet it as much as possible.

Please use the comments section here if you have ideas about how to improve this strategy. Let’s do it!

*You can follow us now at:!/HealthyRT *

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10 Responses to “Join The HealthyRT Experiment: Let’s Use Twitter To Drown Out Health Misinformation”

  1. Pam says:

    What a great public service. Count me in for the RTs. Any thought on a good hashtag, too?

  2. Vijay says:

    Count me in. I’m all for this.
    Most of us medical bloggers have been doing our bit to spread proper health information for more than half a decade now. It’s good that you are trying to harness the numbers and the collective knowledge for the greater good.

  3. Vijay says:

    Pam & Val: We’d already started using #HealthRTclub as the hashtag. We could shorten it to #HealthRT or go with #HealthyRT

  4. Val,

    This is a fantastic idea. What a great opportunity for those of us who are committed to an ethical investment in health care AND social media. Thanks for getting it off the ground.


  5. I’m definitely in… whatever I can do to help, I’m here & ready!
    The thing I’m most excited about is the ability to showcase resources from hard working non-profits and other organizations that are usually really affected by this type of misinformation.
    As a patient advocate, I’ve seen first hand the type of effect these doctor shows have… I’ve seen the interest in non-FDA approved, ridiculous snake-oil type treatments triple overnight from one mention on TV… it’s frustrating to try to combat that, and hopefully the HealthyRT experiment will help.

  6. @drval:
    Thanks for doing this and getting this group started. A few months ago I listened to an Annals of Internal Medicine podcast of Dr. Gregory Poland discussing the updated vaccination guidelines. He proposed that the anti-vaccination movement is a result of, what he called, “Media-Based Medicine.”

    I loved the term so much I defined the hashtag #mbmed on and have tried to get it to catch on with @hrana.

    Let’s make sure that the most accurate information and debates are out there.

  7. Nell Nockles says:

    Great idea but what about websites like mine? I have studied dust mites and the effect their allergens have on health for over 15 years, but I am not a ‘medical professional’. I only wish to pass on what I’ve learned to the general public. Are we to be ignored even though my work is based on published clinical research and appreciated by medical opinion leaders?

  8. Hi Nell – don’t worry, our reviewers are open to promoting/RT’ing good content from ANY and every source.

  9. Peter Elias, MD says:

    Perhaps you are not familiar with the experience of Wales and Sanger and the creation of Nupedia, planned in the late 1990s as an inexpensive digital encyclopedia, with articles written by experts? Haven’t heard of Nupedia? Probably because it was an utter, dismal failure. Like Encarta.

    ON the other hand, Wikipedia has thrived, and overall presents information that is quite competitive with standard academic references for quality – and far better for currency.

    While I understand the issue that concerns you (I have to deal with misinformation and disinformation daily with patients in my primary care practice), I think you have zero chance of making this work.

    If you have not already done so, I’d recommend ‘Here Comes Everybody’ by Clay Shirky for discussion of some of the issues involved.

    Peter Elias, MD

  10. Colleen Young says:

    I fully support the idea of sowing enough grass seed to choke out the weeds. As we passed the one month anniversary of starting the @HealthyRT project, do you have an initial assessment of its uptake and effectiveness?

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Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.


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