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Drawbacks Of Community-Centric Health Forums

In our phenomenally connected world, knowledge is at everyones fingertips. This is especially helpful where healthcare is concerned. Shared knowledge a...

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|Feb 5|magazine11 min read

In our phenomenally connected world, knowledge is at everyone’s fingertips. This is especially helpful where healthcare is concerned. Shared knowledge and experiences not only make us better informed, but also more empowered to counter possible abuses, mistreatments and unjust practices. However, the information explosion also comes with its own evil. Public forums are a great source for information and as support groups, but, more than often, also a source for misinformation.

This problem is more pronounced in case of advice on sports, nutrition and the likes. For medicines and serious complications, everyone prefers to get specialist advice, but things like sports, health, exercise and fitness; which are considered as ‘lighter issues’, are usually dealt with less seriously.

“It Worked For Me, Buddy”

While community-based healthcare services depend more on actual medical advice, when it comes to sports and fitness, it is often less formal. Of course, having a swimming pool or a skating rink where kids can engage in extra-curricular activities and interact socially is great, and may also have the benefit of expert supervision.

But when things are discussed in a forum, be it online or offline, everyone becomes an expert. Which is mainly because most have engaged in such activities as kids, or accompany their children to such activities. Sharing experience is very helpful, but experience is also a subjective matter. So, some may insist that it is best to make eight-year olds run 10 laps around the soccer field to build thigh muscles; while the next person may be equally adamant that working out and playing in the backyard is the better way. While the self-appointed experts at best may come to some ego clash, it becomes extremely confused for those who came looking for some advice.

No Expert Advice

A forum, unless specified otherwise, is a place where everybody is equal; except may be the moderator. However, like any other advice forums, a community-based forum is rarely under expert supervision. In matters related to sports or nutrition, people usually stick to conventional wisdom, mostly, that which runs into the family. Everyone may be welcome to air their views, but only an expert can speak with authority on some subject. Respecting everyone’s beliefs is a tricky thing to do, and it is doubly dangerous to insist that a particular suggestion may be completely at odds to what is medically sound.

This becomes especially pertinent when a community has a leaning to a certain faith. For example, a discussion on eating meat may be a minefield in a forum where majority of the members share a faith which prohibits eating meat.

Better managed community forums have the benefit of expert guidance and surveillance, but sadly, for most other forums, expert advice is an exception and a privilege, and not a mandatory thing. This is nearly impossible online.

Misinformation Unlimited

This is something which comes as a given today, and is especially rampant online. The information explosion has also led to formation of numerous portals that are dens of false facts, fraudulent statistics and hokey gurus. Nutrition and exercise are two areas where almost everyone have an opinion, and even things that are passed off as ‘expert advice’ are often unfounded and contradictory.

For example, a certain popular lifestyle website recently hosted an article on foods that helps one lose weight. However, the article mentioned that potatoes are a must for those who want to shed weight. All nutritionists and doctors recommend avoiding potatoes if one wants to become slimmer, and it is strictly prohibited for diabetics. Similarly, almost everywhere on the internet one can find tips on proper workout regimens. In many forums, for example, people are encouraged to do cardio exercises, while qualified trainers insist that each individual needs a different workout, and for people suffering from certain ailments, cardios are a strict no-no.

Online forums, as one can guess, are particularly vulnerable to misinformation. The internet is also plagued by trolls, and if that happens in a community-based forum, there can be serious repercussions.

While sports, fitness and nutrition are things that are taken less seriously, these are not to be dealt with lightly. These are integral parts of our lifestyle, and misinformd, unsupervised advice can be extremely harmful since these aspects have long-lasting implications. Lifestyle diseases, like diabetes are on a global rise, and community-based or otherwise, nothing less than a qualified opinion and sustainable practices will do.