5 things to know about health misinformation

Health misinformation was a problem before the pandemic. However, the pandemic rapidly accelerated its spread and increased its effect on Americans' personal and public health decisions, causing the issue to become a top concern among healthcare providers, media platforms and federal officials.

Below are five key things to know about the state of health misinformation:

  1. The difference between misinformation and disinformation lies in the intent of the person sharing the falsehood. Misinformation is false information someone spreads because they believe it to be true. Disinformation is false information spread by someone who knows it to be false — a deliberate attempt to deceive people.

  2. If a physician posts or shares health misinformation, they could lose their license. The Federation of State Medical Boards warned July 29 that physicians and other healthcare professionals could be at risk of losing their medical licenses if they spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.

  3. Misinformation in the media and medical community is more common than one might think. For example, more than one-third of commonly read cancer treatment articles on social media contain misinformation that could potentially harm patients' treatment quality and chances of survival.

    Doximity, a health IT and telehealth networking platform often referred to as "LinkedIn for doctors," is riddled with COVID-19 misinformation and anti-vaccine content posted from physician members. Another example from the medical community: Google searches for COVID-19 vaccines and infertility increased by 34,900 percent after a physician and former Pfizer executive submitted a petition with claims that the vaccine was linked to infertility.

  4. Twelve people are responsible for 65 percent of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media. A report released in May by the Center for Countering Digital Hate profiled the 12 individuals, who are alternative health entrepreneurs, physicians and a chiropractor.

  5. The urgent threat of health misinformation was the subject of the first advisory issued by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD. The advisory highlights how health misinformation has deterred many Americans from exercising COVID-19 protocols and getting vaccinated, prolonging the pandemic and putting lives at risk.

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