Giving out medical advice on Twitter can lead to more harm than good if a physician isn't careful. With only 140 characters, Twitter might not be the best place to explain the nuances of a medical issue.
A few weeks ago I was following an online discussion conducted by a widely followed health site.
During the discussion, they had a physician who was giving out wellness advice to users via Twitter.
That physician had one tweet in particular that terrified me.
As the above screenshot shows, one tweet mentioned that when in doubt regarding a heart attack, you should call 911. Appropriate advice. However, the physician then sent out another tweet stating, “If movement, deep breaths, swallowing makes pain worse or better, it is NOT a heart attack.”
Based on the number of followers of the health site promoting the tweetchat, up to 150,000 Twitter users saw these tweets in their timeline. The physician even had followers responding in thanks, an acknowledgment they will probably follow the advice.
If you were to tell any Emergency Medicine physician or Cardiologist that symptoms such as movement, deep breaths, swallowing making pain worse or better is “NOT” a heart attack — we would not agree. Sure, it might be atypical chest pain, but we would certainly never say “NOT a heart attack.”
There is good data that older patients, women, and patients with comorbidities like diabetes are more likely to present with symptoms other than “typical” chest pain (1).
1. Rosengren A, Wallentin L, Simoons M, et al. “Age, clinical presentation, and outcome of acute coronary syndromes in the Euroheart acute coronary syndrome survey. Eur Heart J (April 2006) 27 (7): 789-795. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehi774