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Media Info Influences Patients and Doctors More than Science

Instant news, delivered constantly is a blessing and a curse. I want to talk about the curse so we all understand how we are influenced. This is NOT about politics and how AI (artificial intelligence) can make images and words look real, even when totally fabricated. This is NOT about how young girls (and boys) are trying to live up to photoshopped celebs, phony influencers and porn that is everywhere online.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a remarkable study that showed how media news (the respected New York Times) influenced both patients and physicians to prescribe oral low-dose Minoxidil for hair loss.

On August 18, 2022, the NYT published an article describing successful treatment for women with hair loss who received low-dose oral Minoxidil. The information came from a few dermatologists and observation studies in patients with alopecia. The standard dose of Minoxidil caused side effects so using a tiny dose (off-label) had been tried with some success, according to the reports. The topical Minoxidil that was OKed by the FDA worked, but was annoying to use and expensive too. I admit the article caught my attention, and the interest of apparently thousands of other patients and doctors.

The weekly rate of first-time Minoxidil prescriptions per 10,000 outpatient visits rose enormously 8 weeks after the article was published. There was a 2.4-fold increase in male prescriptions and a 1.7-fold increase for females. The media coverage alone, even without new research or with limited evidence, changed the prescribing habits of doctors. We don't know any of the socioeconomic factors of these prescriptions (income, access to health care or education) or which patients divided 10mg Minoxidil into smaller doses. (I suspect a lot more). We do know that it's a prescription medication so doctors were influenced by the article.

Why is this important? The wonderful advances we have experienced since the 1920s brought us penicillin, insulin, vitamins, modern anesthesia, infection control, birth control, artificial joints and organs and I could go on and on. These all came from scientific studies and proving they work, without causing more harm. This is the Scientific Method that all MDs and DOs are taught.

There is nothing wrong with observational studies or using some drugs "off-label". That is one way advancements are made and new discoveries are made. Men will be happy to know Viagra was being tested for high blood pressure and heart pain before its wondrous effect on erections was discovered. But scientists followed those observations with controlled studies to determine safety and dosing in 1998 before FDA approval.

It should be noted that prescriptions for low dose Minoxidil have fallen off since the article in NYT. Maybe it didn't work. Maybe people forgot about it. Maybe there were side effects. The important message is that we all need to be more scientific and questioning about what we read in the media.

TicToc and Instagram stars give really awful information, couched with scientific mumbo-jumbo. If a news broadcaster or news media describes something as a "break-through", your red flag warning should go up. It doesn't mean its just means deeper analysis is needed before you jump on the bandwagon. If your physician says they want to take the time and think about or research a drug that you have read about, you are lucky that they are using the scientific method and not just the media to make health-care decisions.

Full disclosure- I tried the low-dose oral Minoxidil. It didn't work for me. But that pic is really compelling, right?


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