Dr Todd Wolynn, CEO, Kids Plus Pediatrics views communicating with patients and the public as part of his job. His paediatrics practice even has its own small studio for developing content to share on social media.
Their videos highlight the importance of flu vaccination, why the doctors themselves are vaccinated, and feature personal interviews with doctors working at the clinic.
But it was a 90-second video on the HPV vaccine that plunged Dr Wolynn and colleagues into an unwanted battle with anti-vaccine groups. The video was very successful and was initially well received, he recalls.
Then, about three weeks after they posted the video, it began to circulate among networks opposed to vaccination. A coordinated global attack was launched against the practice by about 800 anti-vaccine individuals posting more than 10,000 times to their Facebook page. ‘Since it was global, it was literally 24 hours a day,’ says Dr Wolynn.
The attack included posting negative reviews on the practice’s Yelp and Google rankings – potentially deterring people from choosing the service.
Several vocal vaccine advocates, including the Physician Moms Group came to Dr Wolynn’s aid, responding to criticisms and mobilising supporters. Dr Wolynn also reached out to Yelp and social media companies – with mixed results – to clean up some of the fraudulent negative reviews that were damaging his reputation.
When the dust settled, Dr Wolynn and his team discussed the issue with other healthcare providers and decided to develop a plan that would help others to deal with similar attacks.
- Create a toolkit on how to prepare for, defend against, and clean-up after attacks
- Build a rapid response network that would swiftly mobilise pro-science, pro-vaccine groups to come to the aid of online attacks
- Reach out to social media companies to discuss how they can help minimise the damage caused by anti-vaccine networks
‘The scariest part is not going through the attacks,’ says Dr Wolynn. ‘It’s the fact that people fear attacks and will choose to not say anything about vaccination. They find that it’s too controversial so they prefer to talk about sunscreen or seatbelts. The problem is if you leave a vacuum, it will be filled with non-science, non-factual information.’
Dr Wolynn is not alone is seeking to use online social networks to share evidence-based information about vaccination – and to engage with the public’s questions.
A number of high-profile physicians are using Twitter and Facebook to share stories about patients suffering from vaccine-preventable diseases. Dr Jennifer Gunter started a viral Twitter thread to show the real impact of influenza, while Dr Mihai Craiu is using Facebook to communicate with patients in Romania – where a measles outbreak has affected thousands of people.
Dr Austin Chiang has hit the headlines for his efforts to recruit an army of medical experts to ‘drown out fake news’ on Instagram and Twitter. His job – as a Chief Medical Social Media Officer at a network of hospitals in the US – shows the growing importance of communicating about health issues online.
— JOHN NOSTA (@JohnNosta) June 4, 2019
His work has attracted the attention of US TV network CNBC which is helping his message get to all kinds of unorthodox channels – including the back of New York taxi cabs.
— Austin Chiang MD MPH (@AustinChiangMD) June 2, 2019
The goal is not to convince anti-vaccine groups to change their views but to reduce the risk that parents with genuine questions or concerns find factual information on which to base their decisions.