How quickly are you able to find reliable health information online? 1 hour? 30 minutes? 10 minutes? For pharmacists, this is an integral part of the job. Their knowledge and expertise on medications are essential for medication management and chronic disease treatment and prevention because it leads to better health outcomes and lower costs for the healthcare system and patients. In addition, pharmacists play a vital role in dissecting complex health topics and educating their patients. Critiquing credible resources and perfecting patient-friendly language are key skills for successful pharmacists and professionals in any healthcare field. Anyone can find information on the Internet, but finding reliable sources and understanding pertinent information can take time. Misinformation and medical hoaxes can make it difficult to decipher what is fact versus fiction. Promoting health literacy and strong patient engagement in health are ways to combat misinformation and “fake news.”
With the rise of technology, these skills are now utilised in digital platforms to educate the general public. The Dosette is an open-access Canadian pharmacy blog that provides accurate educational information and resources on various health-related topics right at one’s fingertips. The Dosette educates both patients and health care providers on various topics ranging from minor ailments to vaccines to medication safety. It acts as a digital pharmacist, as it delivers a variety of health content in one convenient location through comprehensible articles and bite-sized infographics that are easy to digest. The Dosette team consists of ten writers who are current learners and future pharmacists from three different time zones in Canada and the United States of America. All have a passion for applying what we learn in class to make a meaningful difference in the world.
Need for the dissemination of accurate health information
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unavoidable surge in digital interactions due to social distancing and nationwide lockdowns, making social media one of the most socially responsible ways to adhere to regulations while staying connected to friends and family. Providing accurate information using familiar, widely-used platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and online blogs, is a way for pharmacists to share reliable health information and stay connected with their patients.
COVID-19 will certainly go down in history as a black swan event. It has highlighted the digital space as an influential place where people of all ages seek health information. Despite the obstacles and countless lives lost, the pandemic has shed light on new opportunities and potential ways to grow, most notably in the digital health world. It not only accelerated the use of telehealth and telemedicine and exposed weaknesses in responding to future crises but also highlighted how social media can be both an asset to disperse information quickly and a liability when misinformation spreads. According to a 2018 study, fake news travels six times faster than the truth on Twitter. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen the fatal consequences caused by the spread of digital disinformation. It is easy to accept everything we read online as the truth, especially when it supports existing thoughts, opinions, and ideas but may not be backed by evidence. Therefore, health professionals who inform and engage with the public digitally promote health literacy and empower patients to take ownership of their health, especially when health news is in the global limelight.
Connecting key stakeholders in youth organisations and the private sector may empower future leaders in healthcare to lead in shaping the design, development, implementation, and evaluation of digital technologies in healthcare.
Role of youth-led initiatives in public health awareness
The Dosette is an ideal model for disseminating accurate health information because it is low cost and can improve how health professionals reach the general public and share health information in the digital space. This model is easily translatable to other health professions (i.e. doctors to educate patients on specific diseases or public health officials for awareness campaigns) and can lead to a more informed and inclusive future. Furthermore, the WHO supports the integration of youth-led digital health initiatives into existing health infrastructures to transmit information to improve health and well-being. Linking current leaders with future leaders in healthcare can lead to the faster dissemination of verified, accurate information to prevent medical hoaxes. As future health professionals, it is not enough to contribute to advances in the health world. We must also make it understandable and accessible to the general public. Of note, though many health blogs like The Dosette are available through free social media platforms, it is important to recognise that not everyone has equitable access to resources such as consistent, reliable broadband.
All in all, future health professionals should develop a sense of responsibility when using digital health technology to connect and communicate with the general public. Some of the key missions of the Commission are amplifying the voices of the youth and promoting constructive conversations about the use of digital technology in healthcare. By understanding how technology is used now, we can better plan how it can be utilised in the future. Connecting key stakeholders in youth organisations and the private sector may empower future leaders in healthcare to lead in shaping the design, development, implementation, and evaluation of digital technologies in healthcare. We hope the Commission will continue to support meaningful health promotion efforts and amplify the voices of the health workforce, to foster a future in which everyone has access to reliable health information. While there is no silver bullet to solve all the issues in today’s health world, this is a step in the right direction in the digital world. Accurate, dependable information on social media can and will help save lives.
Help stop the spread by reporting misinformation here.
Stephanie Hwang is a PharmD candidate at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy with experience in ambulatory and community settings. Her interests include global health, interprofessional collaboration, and research.