By Michael Ross and Diem Pham, Founding Partners, ROAMcare
When you think of “a story,” what comes to your mind? A tall tale? Perhaps something inspirational or traditional? Maybe something fictional with just enough truth in it to keep it interesting? There may be new stories that emerge each year, but the ones that live on through many generations are the ones worth telling and re-telling.
National Tell a Story Day is April 27th. On that day we are encouraged to tell a story. It’s easy, all we need is a connection to the internet. It hasn’t always been that easy to tell a story. Thirty years ago, we needed a typewriter, a fresh ribbon, a ream of paper, and a willing audience. Twenty years ago, we needed a word processor and access to email, and a willing audience was still a must. Ten years ago, it was a keyboard and a dialed-up connection to the internet. Today, the modern storyteller can tell their tale with just a smartphone and access to any of the many social network sites. No keyboard or pen needed! A willing audience is no longer a necessity either. The internet provides an audience. Willing or not, the people are there.
When we put aside the typewriter and keyboard as tools to craft our stories, we may have also inadvertently set aside important criteria of what makes a story worth telling. Typing out the story allows time to process thoughts and ideas, reflect and craft the words. What is the take away message or the lessons learned? How is the truth presented? Successful novelists are aware that truth is incidental to a good story. Nobody expects fiction to be truthful or accurate. That is what makes fiction fiction. Even so, the successful novelist makes certain each work carries a disclaimer, usually on the copyright page, with explicit language that goes something like:
This book is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents are the product of the imagination of the author or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, or any event, company, country, or location is entirely coincidental.”
Disclaimers have long been used on fictional works, written and filmed, for good reason. However, you won’t find them on the screens of computers, tablets, or phones where fiction may be misrepresented as fact. Some social media storytellers inadvertently forward information without confirming its integrity. Often, the sharing is done with good intent. It’s easy to share and provide a service. But be aware, there are social networkers who specialize in distribution of questionable information in the guise of news or pertinent information. The internet has countless stories and variations of stories circulating. The stories may be factual, partially factual, mostly fictional, or all of these at the same time!
As respected and trusted professionals, we must remain vigilant to the information and the misinformation circulating. This includes information on health, safety and effectiveness of drug-based treatments, remedies and vaccines. Misinformation causes fear and can be damaging, regardless if it’s distributed with good intentions by someone not verifying the validity of the post, or intentionally circulating it with intent to elicit fear and anxiety.
Pharmacists are in an ideal position to address the questions of the public on medications and medication related concerns even before the questions are asked. We are held in high regard as sources of accurate, evidence based drug information. We can be counted on to deliver unbiased drug information that is free of commercial interest and popular opinion. Using our connections with our patients, internet presence, and social media networks, we can and should distribute accurate news and factual drug and vaccine information. We should not only encourage our patients and interdisciplinary medical professionals to turn to us as sources of reliable information but be there where we know inaccurate information is circulating. We can pre-empt misinformation before it can be recirculated.
Pharmacists’ specialized training gives us unique skills we can use to empower our colleagues and patients to critically evaluate information and identify the signs of dubious accuracy or poor logic. Together we can instill the trust and confidence to build and maintain healthy communities.
The stories that our patients hear should be ones of inspiration with nothing but the truth, worth telling and telling again. Accurate drug information should come from pharmacists who are the drug information experts and take medication safety to heart. No disclaimers necessary.