How The 'Charlie Sheen Effect' Affects Healthcare Practitioners:
Utilizing Pop Culture News to Improve Your Medical SEO

Posted on March 29, 2016
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The 'Charlie Sheen Effect'

Last November, Charlie Sheen revealed his HIV-positive status on national television, creating hysteria in the media industry and among television viewers nationwide.

In a matter of minutes, Sheen went from the eccentric actor with questionable behavior (recall substance abuse issues, promiscuity and tiger blood), to a suffering man with a disease. Support came pouring in for Sheen and so too did awareness for the human immunodeficiency virus and AIDs.

In February, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published its findings on news trends and internet searches of HIV-related topics in the time after Sheen disclosed this information.

In what JAMA refers to as the "Charlie Sheen Effect," Sheen's public announcement led to the highest number of HIV-related Google searches ever in the United States. In fact, the day of his disclosure led to a 265% increase in news reports mentioning HIV and 417% higher than expected searches regarding HIV, including Sheen's news story, as well as searches relating to public health and HIV (condoms, symptoms, testing and treatment).

Misinformation Matters

The 'Charlie Sheen Effect' - Misinformation Matters

There is no doubt Charlie Sheen significantly raised HIV awareness. However, along with his announcement came inaccurate and worrisome information from Sheen himself. In the weeks and months to follow, Sheen underwent alternative treatment for HIV from a specialist in Mexico, which led him off his antiviral medication and onto arthritic goat milk - a treatment with no scientifically-proven benefit.

While Sheen has since openly acknowledged the missteps of this treatment, it proves that your patients are susceptible to bad and potentially life-threatening information in the media. As a healthcare provider, when a public figure such as Sheen misleads the public, you hold the power to shift your patients' perspective.

Acting reactively to these discrepancies via your medical website, social media or through an email blast can help quell the spread of misinformation.

The Celebrity Clout

The 'Charlie Sheen Effect' - The Celebrity Clout

It's not just Charlie Sheen that can have a profound effect on the public. Consider when Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy because she discovered she carried the BRCA1 gene. The number of screenings for the BRCA1 gene skyrocketed, and women undergoing similar procedures also steadily increased.

Another perfect example is when Jenny McCarthy blamed vaccinations for her son's autism diagnosis. More parents chose not to vaccinate their children, creating a fierce debate that is still affecting parental decision-making.

Michael J. Fox, Dr. Oz and Magic Johnson are just a few of the other personalities that use their celebrity status as a platform to share information with fans and the general public, significantly impacting the dissemination of health information.

Capitalize on Content

The 'Charlie Sheen Effect' - Capitalize on Content

While it is most important to first address incorrect health information in the media, it is also an ideal time to produce and distribute accurate information on the health topic overall.

With search queries at a high, relevant, SEO-rich content will bring you to the top of search engine results of a hot topic item. This in turn, can drive more patients into your office.

Be sure to discuss symptoms, diagnostic testing and treatment options, as these will be the items your patients are looking for on popular search sites such as Google, Yahoo and Bing.


The next time you see something in the news that you think could have an impact on your patient population remember to:

  1. Review news and media outlets to see what information is being distributed.
  2. Address your patient base via email, social media or your medical website to correct any inaccurate information.
  3. Add relevant content to your medical website on the topic including symptoms, testing and treatment options.

By paying attention to the media, you can get ahead of information before it creates a problem for you and your practice. And with a little finesse, you can use the increased awareness to establish your practice at the forefront of modern medicine.

Tags: Content Management, Medical Marketing, Practice Building

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