As stated by the WHO, the COVID-19 outbreak and response have been accompanied by a massive infodemic or medical misinformation. That is, an excessive amount of information, in some cases correct, in others not. Which makes it difficult for people to find reliable sources and reliable guidance when they need it.
What is behind the ‘infodemic’ or false medical misinformation?
According to WHO, the overwhelming amount of misinformation that coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak is the driving force behind the infodemic. “An infodemic can intensify or prolong outbreaks when people aren’t sure what they need to do to protect their health and the health of those around them.” WHO wrote.
For example, a 2021 study showed that after brief exposure to COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. Participants were less likely to want a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health. … Limiting the spread of health misinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will require a whole-of-society effort.”
What role can doctors play?
Physicians should be well positioned to combat the spread of misinformation by taking these steps:
Engage with patients
Physicians are often highly trusted and can be an effective tool in combating misinformation.
Taking the time to understand each patient’s beliefs and values is key to correcting misinformation. When discussing health issues with patients, avoid technical jargon and use accessible language instead.
With an overwhelming amount of information accessible on social media, it can be difficult for the public to discern what is trustworthy and what is not.
What’s even more concerning is that misinformation is likely to be shared more widely and quickly than the truth, as a 2018 study showed that falsehoods were 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth. This same study showed that it took about six times longer for the truth than false information to reach 1,500 people on Twitter, placing a responsibility on medical experts to combat misinformation.
Partner with community groups
Finally, health care providers can collaborate with community members to develop effective public health messages, taking into account the diversity of patient needs, backgrounds, and experiences.
By working with other members of the community, clinicians can amplify their voices to raise awareness of cases of misinformation, in hopes of correcting misinformation.
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