Searching, scrolling, shuddering, sharing, WTF, open another tab, questioning, next article, liking, fear, DM’ing, confusion, just five more minutes, clicking through, anger, commenting, apprehension, I guess I’ll call a doctor.
For many hernia patients this vicious cycle of information seeking across the web and social media turns their treatment journey into an emotional rollercoaster, which typically happens before the first doctor visit.
The hernia treatment journey is especially difficult for "lurkers,” the over 90% of social media users who are not publicly engaging with the platforms. While they are not commenting or liking, they are reading, scrolling, and having an emotional response to the content they consume.
Before sharing tips on how to alleviate hernia web search related anxiety, some context to explain why the condition has created abnormal search behavior.
While hernias are relatively common conditions, hernia mesh, the current standard of care has come under public scrutiny because of product recalls, proactive market withdrawal by manufacturers, and several high-profile active lawsuits.
Per the FDA in 2018, “Many complications related to hernia repair with surgical mesh that have been reported to the FDA have been associated with recalled mesh products that are no longer on the market.”
There is a good chance that you have probably seen television ads aimed at creating fear and questioning the safety of hernia mesh. According to X-ANTE, a Mass Tort Intelligence Firm revealed that 288,000 hernia mesh litigation ads have aired on TV since 2016 costing approx. $89 million.
As more and more people cut the cord and move to streaming, the ad spend and activity migrates digitally to websites and social media. According to AdvaMed, “X Ante found that law firms have paid up to $100 per click-through for these leads.”
A study by Miller and Blatnik evaluating search engine listings for hernia mesh found “‘recommended search terms’ displayed on search engine results pages referenced lawsuits, complications, or risks of surgical mesh 46% of the time.”1
Similar to what you might do after having a sub-optimal meal at a restaurant, patients are sharing their negative experience on social media. Currently there are 16 public Facebook groups dedicated to the topic of surgical mesh. Most of these groups were established in 2015, with an average age of 4 years. They have a total membership of 14,813 and house over 1.1 million total posts. These groups in total average 750 posts per day, 95% of which share negative sentiments.2
To get a better sense of the cumulative effect, look at how many times a month Dr. Google is paged for the term hernia. Estimated monthly keyword search volume is approximately 80% higher than the term cancer.
During a Facebook Q&A session of leading hernia surgeons3, the majority of the panelist shared how patients are coming into a consultation saying they do not want mesh, revealing a communication chasm. As a result, we at TELA Bio are taking proactive measures to lessen the gap.
As a lurker you might not be comfortable asking other patients for advice, so please consider the following tips for a more productive hernia care search.
Start with the basics like the medical definition of a hernia, common symptoms, causes, and ways hernias are diagnosed and treated. Try searching local hernia centers or hernia specialists as their content is typically more comprehensive. For the visual learners, YouTube can be a great resource of educational videos, just make sure they are from a licensed healthcare provider.
Be wary of legal websites offering medical advice. While they may look clinical, they are developed to scare patients into potentially risky behavior like having an unnecessary medical procedure. Always check the “About Us” section of the website to view details about their credentials and experience to determine legitimacy. If the URL looks funky, chances are it’s designed to spread misinformation. One way that can be helpful in spotting a legit content source is by looking for content that has been “medically reviewed or approved” and links to a credentialed healthcare provider.
Exploring hernia treatment options:
When searching for treatment options such as hernia mesh or no mesh repairs be careful of websites that appear biased or use broad statements to categorize all hernia meshes into one group. As no two hernias are alike, the same goes for hernia treatments. It’s important to consider all your options which may include:
- Watchful waiting, some hernias may not require immediate medical attention
- Non-surgical garments like a hernia belt
- No mesh tissue repair
- Permanent or temporary Reinforced Tissue repairs
- Mesh repairs (permanent synthetic resorbable synthetic, and biologic)
If you are going to dive into the clinical data, please check the publication date. While there are studies that are considered influential and still hold clinical validity years later, surgeons and medical technology companies continue to innovate and advance hernia care with new techniques and repair technology. It’s also very important to check the disclosures as pharma, biotech, and medical device companies do sponsor clinical research.
Without getting too technical, two keywords to pay attention to are biocompatibility and recurrence. Biocompatibility defines the body responds to the material. The more biocompatible the more favorable of a healing response. The term recurrence describes what happens when the hernia has come back. The lower the recurrence rate the better.
Finding a doctor
Finally, when you are ready to speak with a doctor, it’s important to find one who believes in offering you options based on clinical need. That may mean you have to travel, however with telehealth, consultations and follow up have become a lot more streamlined.
As mentioned earlier, credentials and experience of your healthcare provider matter. Some hernias may require a multi-disciplinary approach such as working with a bariatric doctor to help lower your BMI prior to hernia repair.
Check out the surgeon’s social media profiles to help give you a better sense of their focus and expertise. Based on your personality, it may also be a great way to identify if they are the right fit without having to pick up the phone.
Arguably the most important search of all is patient reviews. Make sure to check Google, Healthgrades, ZocDoc, etc to ensure consistent experiences across the platforms. When you come across a negative review, give the benefit of the doubt, as bad experiences happen in healthcare just like any other “service” related industry. While your health is not on the same level as a burnt bagel, there are many factors that could have contributed to the unfortunate outcome. There are always two sides to the story. It’s important to see how the health care provider responds to negative comments, as that shows their commitment to delivering the best patient experience possible.
If you are experiencing a medical emergency, bypass the search and dial 911. Good luck on your journey to find the right hernia care for you.
Sharing your fears and concerns with your doctor doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable conversation.
Use the SCAFFOLD guide to help you prepare to discuss potential treatments for your hernia. Click to begin.
- Miller, M.P., Blatnik, J.A. Evaluation of information on the Internet regarding surgical mesh for hernia repair: analysis of websites found through three popular search engines. Hernia (2021).
- Fadaee, N., Huynh, D., & Towfigh, S. (2020). #Mesh: Social Media and Its Influence on Perceptions in Hernia Repair. The American surgeon, 86(10), 1351–1357.
- Retrieved from Q&A on International Hernia Collaboration Facebook group 3/18/21