How Dermatologists Combat Misinformation on Social Media


Dr. Karan Lal speaks to how he has used Instagram to host a variety of conversations regarding dermatology care and connect with patients who might not always have all the appropriate resources.

In recent years, the subject of misinformation has pervaded many of our conversations regarding world news, politics and more. But how might it affect dermatology care, especially in the realm of social media?

A recent study from the University of California found that among 439 acne-related posts to the social media platform in April 2020, only 17 of the top posts came from dermatologists. The remaining posts were generated from “influencers” with no clinical background.

Influencers often received a greater average of “likes” despite dermatologists having a comparable number of followers, and they often promoted skin care products that investigators noted were untested or showed no benefit of treating acne.

Despite this- or perhaps because of this- there are dermatologists such as Karan Lal, DO, MS, FAAD, Schweiger Dermatology Group, who have amassed a large following and continue to use Instagram to speak to clinically-relevant, properly researched skin care methods.

Lal spoke to how he has used the social media platform to host a variety of conversations regarding dermatology care and connect with patients who might not always have all the appropriate resources.

“I think my purpose for going on Instagram was to educate the public about the common things that we see, new treatments that are available out there, when to see a dermatologist, what's dangerous, what's not dangerous, what are some common, easy things you can look for over the counter that you can try,” Lal said. “That's basically the goal of a lot of dermatologists, right, is to make sure that we improve access and increase access to people who don't have access to dermatologists.”

Lal noted that informing the public of evidence-based skin care methods can be challenging due to the fact that there are other dermatologists and “skin influencers” that promote skin care products and brands via paid partnerships.

Regarding the latter group, many of these influencers lack any background in dermatology or cosmetic chemistry and as a result do not understand the clinical application of the products they are advertising.

From a patient perspective, those affected with acne might not be aware of what kind of acne they have such as bacterial acne, mite acne, and so on, and expose themselves to a product that does nothing to manage their condition.

This is perhaps one of the reasons why Lal continues to broaden his reach on platforms like Instagram – but not at the expense of his integrity. He’s conscious of the content that he is posting, the implications of whatever dermatological procedure he’s speaking of in the present moment, and the standard that he is being held to as a certified dermatologist.

“There's one piece of advice that someone told me, and I'll never forget it; as a physician, no matter what anybody says, you are held to a different standard,” Lal said. “And you have to be careful of what you say, what you wear - anything that you put out there can come and bite you in the butt , so you have to be conscious of that. So, I think good physicians on social media are people that adhere to those rules and make sure that they show that respect to the people that are following them.”

The incentive of posting dermatological content online is not related to paid partnerships, of which Lal stated he does not have, but rather the knowledge that can be gained from this content by patients who are struggling with acne and other skin conditions.

When tasked with answering “why” any one medication or therapy could be effective in managing a skin condition such as acne, Lal can offer his unbiased, clinically driven medical opinion to the audience he has accrued online.

“What I say is based on my best anecdotal, medical, clinical opinion, and what I would like to tell patients and people on social media is to make sure you look at the credentials of the person that you're listening to, recognize that there's way more than just what you see at face value, and make sure you trust people that you're watching, even if they're dermatologists, to see whether or not they're paid to say these things, because all of those things can influence the kind of the information that you're getting," Lal said.

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