Covid-19: Facebook removes ‘misleading’ post by a doctor on Karnataka govt request
NEW DELHI: Facebook removed a Hyderabad-based doctor’s post which offered potentially misleading medical advice including a blanket drugs prescription to Covid-19 patients on its social networking platform, heeding a first of its kind request from the Karnataka government amid the pandemic. The American social media company told ET it had removed the post of cardiologist…
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NEW DELHI: Facebook removed a Hyderabad-based doctor’s post which offered potentially misleading medical advice including a blanket drugs prescription to Covid-19 patients on its social networking platform, heeding a first of its kind request from the Karnataka government amid the pandemic.
The American social media company told ET it had removed the post of cardiologist Sanjeev Kumar on Thursday, as it violated the company’s “misinformation and harm policy.”
Kumar had posted videos and messages, including a blanket prescription with names of 11 drugs “for very sick patients with low oxygen saturation but unable to find a bed”. In a post on July 8, which was shared by more than 4,000 Facebook users, he suggested the dosage of every drug and the times it needed to be taken by the patient.
The Karnataka health department wrote to Facebook on Tuesday, asking it to take down the post as it “violated existing guidelines of medical prescriptions”. “This particular account was under our watch as we felt such a general prescription could mislead people. We don’t want people to self-medicate themselves at a time of a crisis like this,” the state health department’s information, education and communication (IEC) special officer Suresh Shastri told ET.
He said as part of an initiative of the state information and public relations department, a team had been constantly examining and countering fake news on Covid-19, particularly on social media.
In response to a query emailed by ET, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We don’t allow misinformation on our platform that could lead to imminent physical harm and since January, when the WHO (World Health Organization) declared Covid-19 a pandemic, we have removed hundreds of thousands of posts including false cures, claims that Coronavirus doesn’t exist or that drinking bleach cures Covid-19.”
In addition, the spokesperson said, for misinformation that does not lead to imminent physical harm, Facebook works with its network of fact-checking partners to rate content and between March and April it had placed warning labels on 90 million pieces of content related to Covid-19 on its platform. “We know these efforts are working because 95% of the time when people saw these labels they did not click through to view the original content,” the spokesperson said in an emailed response.
The Karnataka government’s intervention was in line with the Union information and broadcasting ministry’s directive to all states in the country to have a dedicated Covid-19 fact-check unit to “burst fake posts, wild rumours, conspiracy theories, doctored videos” on a daily basis. Every state sends a report to the Centre every morning on the nature of viral posts claiming Covid-19 cure or management and steps taken to address them.
Kumar, on his part, said he was within his rights to help patients, a claim challenged by many in the medical fraternity, especially in view of the general medical advice he offered on social media. He told ET that “in a war-like situation such as now, it is important to save lives, not insist on protocol”. “It is because governments have failed to build sufficient beds that people, mostly poor, are struggling to find beds. Doctors are not available in many cases. It is my right to help them,” he said. Kumar is a cardiologist in a private hospital in Hyderabad.
He said he had been getting about 6,000 messages every day from people asking for remedies. “I know posting a blanket prescription is not what a doctor should do usually, but this is a pandemic. The drugs I have prescribed are not known to have side-effects. If the common man, who is not getting any medical help, is benefiting from this, and is prevented from dying on the street or while waiting for a bed, what is wrong with this? I am ready to take responsibility for this,” he said.
However, Ganapathy Krishnan, director, Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation, told ET that any prescription to be given online has to be “individualised and customised”. “The telemedicine guidelines unambiguously state that for a prescription to be given digitally the diagnosis of the patient should be written on it. The name, age and sex of the patient are the other requirements,” he said.
Kumar’s handwritten note, scanned and floated on social media with his number, said it was “to be followed if no bed available, under supervision” and had names of vitamin supplements, some antibiotics, antiviral drugs and two injections, including a blood thinner which is usually administered to patients who are hospitalised. His account also had “videos to create an ICU (intensive care unit) at home” and other posts that Karnataka health department officials said they were looking into.
H Veerabhadrappa, president of Karnataka Medical Council, said a blanket prescription was “not just misleading, but dangerous”. “Doctors cannot prescribe more than primary care, which includes vitamin supplements or basic painkillers or a diet plan on WhatsApp or call,” he said, referring to the guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research on the use of telemedicine for Covid-19. “For anything specific, the doctor who has physically examined the patient can talk to a specialist on phone or video call and get further treatment. It is important that doctors understand how social media posts can trigger panic in people or mislead them.”
Krishnan, a former president of the Telemedicine Society of India, further said the practice guidelines clearly distinguish between a first consultation that is necessarily a face to face one or on video conference, and follow-up consultations. Although the Epidemic Diseases Act gives a little more flexibility, medicine cannot be generalised, he said.