5 Ways to Combat Medical Misinformation

Roughly 40% of patients have encountered medical misinformation that could harm their health. Here are five ways you can combat disinformation.

If you’ve been a physician long enough, you’ve had a patient repeat some bit of medical misinformation. Maybe it’s that vaccines cause autism. Or masks don’t work to slow the spread of COVID-19. Perhaps they’re convinced that getting a “base tan” will protect them from sunburn. Whatever the case, the information is wrong, and it’s dangerous to their health.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey shows four in 10 Americans have encountered health disinformation. In many cases, they may not know what to believe, increasing their stress. If your patients ask questions or bring up incorrect details in conversation, seize the opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings.

Some patients will be more open to your efforts than others. So, these steps can help increase your chances of success and potentially protect your patients’ health.

Strategy 1: Stay up to date on misinformation

The internet is a fertile breeding ground for sites that publish false or misleading health data. And spreading misinformation is as simple as clicking “share” on a social media site. Patients may struggle to tell fact from fiction, creating a recipe for a health disaster.

But you can use websites and social media platforms to track the latest medical myths. Read multiple new sites and check your social media for any trending misinformation. Ask your staff to do the same. If you know what your patients are reading and hearing, you’ll be ready to help them find the truth.


Strategy 2: Be clear and humble

The recent pandemic introduced a hefty amount of medical misinformation. As a result, some people question the science behind many medical findings. That’s why healthcare professionals should be as direct and clear as possible when discussing medical myths. Highlight the latest research and explain it in language your patients can understand.

Your patients view you as an expert source. But it’s important to remain humble when addressing their misconceptions. Don’t dismiss their concerns out of hand. Instead, listen to them and present specific cases that dispel their claims.

It’s also OK to acknowledge that medical research is a continuous journey. New information may change treatment efforts but reassure your patients you always rely on the most current, trusted data to deliver their care.

Strategy 3: Listen to your patients

When your patient shares misinformation, resist the temptation to dismiss it and simply state facts. Instead, ask an open-ended question so they can explain their thoughts. For example, if they fear vaccines, ask them to list their concerns.

Slow down and listen to your patients. It shows empathy, and you’ll learn more about why they’ve embraced specific misinformation. Their reasons can include:

  • It reinforces their core principles.
  • It came from a trusted source.
  • It feels like a quick, simple fix to a complex health problem.

It’s important to know as much as possible about where your patient accesses incorrect information — and why they’re holding on to it. When you know their reasons, you can better dispel any falsehoods.


Strategy 4: Share your sources

Even though you have a medical degree, your patients may not simply take your word for it when discussing medical misinformation. So, arm yourself with data from credible, well-respected organizations whenever you talk with a patient.

Be sure to connect your sources to their immediate concern. For example, if you’re talking to a parent who is uncertain about vaccinating their child, share guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Or if your patient thinks vaping is safer than cigarettes, give them information from the American Lung Association.

Reviewing a patient’s initial source with them can also be helpful. These discussions allow you to guide them in recognizing legitimate sources and medical misinformation in the future.


Strategy 5: Create information packets

Some medical misinformation trends are more widespread than others. Consider creating information packets if you find yourself addressing the same misconceptions with multiple patients. These packets can include infographics, handouts and lists of reliable resources.

If you need help creating an effective information packet, several online resources, including the National Library of Medicine, can get you started.


You can be a source of truth for your patients

Medical misinformation can potentially harm your patients’ health. So, it’s critical to address health misconceptions and myths whenever possible. Following these strategies can give you a chance to dispel medical-related falsehoods and set your patients up for better health outcomes.

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