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Tackling ‘anti-expert bias’

There was a time when doctors were rarely questioned or second-guessed and few would welcome a return to this bygone era. Patient empowerment is now considered best practice and is also key to preventative health. However, at the same time, the power of social media and ‘Dr Google’ has swung the pendulum dramatically, whereby ill-considered or uninformed views can gain traction and compete against expert opinion, causing confusion to vulnerable people searching for answers. 

In her address, Dr Hogan took the opportunity to refer to the “insidious” campaigning against the HPV vaccine, “which has directly impacted on uptake levels for this vital cancer-preventing vaccine”.

She commented: “In community medicine, we are on the front line of the campaign to encourage vaccinations and particularly to encourage uptake of the HPV vaccine but over the past 12-to-18 months, there has been a steady erosion of confidence in the vaccine, based purely on whispers and false news and it is having a direct impact [with regard to] reduced uptake levels amongst the target population. This has really serious consequences for all our young people.”

Challenging misinformation is going to be a very important battle for public and community health doctors and indeed, the wider profession. It is opportune that Dr Hogan has taken the ‘chain of command’ at the IMO at this time, as despite the union’s difficulties over recent years, its President has the power to engage the media and influence society and the profession to positive effect — as Dr John Duddy ably proved during his tenure. It is clear that health authorities need to ‘up their game’ on social media, to challenge distortions and proactively communicate evidence-based information. Hopefully Dr Hogan can report on positive developments by the time of the next AGM (which will be held in Killarney).

The coming year will also be an opportunity for Dr Hogan to raise the issue of under-resourcing in public and community health, which rarely receives public attention, despite its clear implications for population health.

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