Health Misinformation: Does it Cause Health Issues?

Elderly man taking notes in a telehealth appointment

We live in the age of social media and information overload. Anyone with an Internet connection can access health information previously only available through health care providers.

The problem is, how do we identify a credible source, and most importantly, is health misinformation a threat to public health?

How Can You Distinguish Between Fake News and Accurate Information in Medicine?

The best way to identify accurate medical information is to be 100% dependent on credible institutions that act as trusted messengers. For example, the World Health Organization is unlikely to publish unproven treatments. 

At the same time, the advice you can find on a social media platform, especially from individuals, must be double or triple-checked before relying on it in daily life or during a health emergency.

Why Medical Disinformation Exist on Mass Media?

Health disinformation exists in mass media because medicine is a dynamic field, so it’s possible to reach wrong conclusions as insufficient evidence is available. 

Also, it’s more probable to find false information in 2023 than 20 years ago because the Internet is a more crowded place, and you don’t need to show your license as a healthcare professional before publishing health advice.

Does False Medical Information Create Health Disparities?

Woman receiving accurate health information from a healthcare professional.

False medical information is especially harmful for people with poor health literacy, but it’s not the only reason behind health disparities. 

Social, economic, geographic, and many more factors impact the possibilities an individual has for accessing the healthcare system.

Health authorities are aware of these differences in the way people have access to health professionals, so it’s an area of intense research to improve disease control and other threats to public health.

Academic researchers are also heavily invested in understanding how health related misinformation affects communities or a regular person.

Interview About Health Disinformation

One of the leading researchers in the study of health misinformation and its impact on health outcomes is Dr. Brian G. Southwell.

Dr. Southwell is an adjunct professor at Duke’s Department of Medicine. He collaborates with the Social Science Research Institute and the Energy Initiative. 

After reading his paper Health Misinformation Exposure and Health Disparities: Observations and Opportunities published in the Annual Review of Public Health, I contacted him, as his research is pivotal to understanding the impact of health misinformation.

Here’s my exclusive interview with Dr. Southwell.

What are the main factors behind health disparities?

Misinformation is not solely responsible for health disparities. Many structural and historical factors contribute to differences between people in the health outcomes they experience.

How can medical misinformation exacerbate existing disparities?

Misinformation also can add extra burden to the lives of people without access to regular healthcare and credible health information, however.

What steps could healthcare organizations take to address misinformation and build trust?

We need healthcare organizations to better understand the questions and information needs of populations who lack key resources. Finding ways to better address those information needs and to build trust are steps we can take to try to address an information environment which includes problematic medical misinformation.

Serg Valencia

Serg Valencia

Serg Valencia is a Longevity Ghostwriter and Master in Neuroscience empowering longevity pioneers to communicate their life-extending vision.

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