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Opinion: People get too angry just because health advice evolves

Dr. Davidicus Wong celebrates 30 years of his Healthwise column
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What do you need to make the right decisions for your personal health? Our long-time medical columnist has a helpful list. iStock photo

I wrote my first column for the Burnaby NOW 30 years ago this month!

I recognize that there was a lot of confusion and misinformation in medicine. Yet there has been no shortage of people providing unqualified medical advice.

The average person also needed help in demystifying medical terminology, navigating the health-care system and destigmatizing emotional health.

My goal remains to provide readers with the practical, evidence-based information they need to maintain their own health.

When medical advice came from friends, relatives and hairdressers, it was always well-intended. There was considerably more incorrect, incomplete and biased information coming from the media, primarily radio and television, and to a lesser extent the internet.

Can you really trust a full-page newspaper ad promising a cure for your back pain or a TV celebrity promoting their own products?

With the explosion of social media over the past two decades, and pandemic confusion over the past two years, the situation is even worse. No wonder friends and families are divided by heated debates about masks, vaccines and public health guidelines.

What do you need to make the right decisions for your personal health? I’ve drawn up a list.

Recognize that medical science – as with all areas of knowledge – is evolving and growing. Nearly all of the treatments I was taught in medical school for specific conditions have changed. That’s why physicians are always keeping up with journals and require continuing medical education to stay up to date with the latest developments. But the evidence for new treatments and procedures requires rigorous study to confirm safety and effectiveness. Because of growing knowledge and changing conditions throughout the pandemic, the recommended advice for managing COVID-19 has evolved over the past two years.

Consider the source. Are the opinions from others unbiased and really based on solid scientific evidence? If so, they should be open to new information as it arises and be amenable to change.

Keep an open mind. One of the keys to mental health is the growth mindset, the recognition that we can learn and grow in a positive way over time. Likewise, with our world views in a larger sense, we should be open to revising and updating our ideas about life and society with experience.

With how social media functions to silo all of us into tribes of opposing world views, all of us can get cognitively trapped in an echo chamber. We keep seeing more of what we believe and this strengthens our resolve.

A clue that we might be stuck: hearing opposing information just makes us angry.

Over six years ago, we started the Empowering Patients public health education program to provide unbiased, evidence-based information to improve your health, through videos, free public talks and posters. We will continue to reach out to our community through our online talks and live events.

To learn more, check out the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s website: https://divisionsbc.ca/burnaby/for-patients/empowering-patients/other-resources

Please join me and Mayor Mike Hurley for a fun, social and safe early evening walk around the track at Confederation Park in North Burnaby on Thursday, Sept. 23. Your friends, families and pets are welcomed, and you’ll meet many Burnaby physicians who care about you – our patients and our community.

On Sept. 21 at 7 p.m., I’ll warm you up with an informative talk on how to maintain your health by getting more physically active.

To join the Burnaby Walk with your Doc or my online presentation on healthy physical activity, please register at: https://checkbox.doctorsofbc.ca/021501bc-a9b1-487d-985b-eef4a5522069

To find other events throughout the province, go to walkwithyourdoc.ca and click on join a walk.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper. For more on achieving your positive potential in health, read his blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.