Viewpoint: Online oncology forums can feed confirmation bias

Online discussions about cancer management have the potential to broaden perspective, but they seem to more often strengthen predispositions or lead oncologists down rabbit holes, a Medscape op-ed argues.

Titled “The Line Between Creativity and Malpractice Can Be Thin,” the piece is penned by H. Jack West, MD, associate clinical professor and executive director of employer services at Duarte, Calif.-based City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center.

An oncologist looking for guidance shares a complex case on social media with colleagues across the globe — in theory, a fantastic development, Dr. West writes. Each institution’s unique culture of managing cases can be compared. However, the medical community is prone to the same impulses that add to low-quality online discourse, where arguments eventually devolve into a chronic misunderstanding of many questions or feed confirmation biases. 

Not all contributions are created equal — some ideas are associated with very significant risk or questionable benefit, Dr. West writes. The openness of online discussions can challenge oncologists to reexamine biases, but unfiltered discussions can also lead to a range of recommendations that are dubious and even dangerous.

Amid a global struggle to combat misinformation, the cancer community should hold itself to a higher standard. “The choices made now will determine whether we lead by example and demonstrate how to elevate the level of online conversation or devolve into a free-for-all of dubious recommendations,” Dr. West concludes.

More articles on oncology: 
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Harvard Pilgrim rolls out data analytics platform to manage cancer patients’ benefits
Oncologists alarmed by missed diagnoses, screenings linked to COVID-19


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