The internet has opened a whole new world of communication and information sharing. The instant access to share information with your friends and family is a great advancement, but it can become dangerous before you know it. This is especially true when it comes to sharing misleading medical information and spreading false health information online.
Social media platforms, forums, and other online communities can greatly enhance the spread of a digital message to a point where some users take it as face value. People may spread misinformation in order to promote a political or personal agenda.
Whenever you see questionable medical information online, make sure you speak with your primary care provider when you can. They can help you guide around any medical misinformation that you could have seen online:
What exactly is misleading medical information?
Misleading medical information is any post, article, or shared resource that refutes or misclaims current medical knowledge accepted by experts. This includes things such as fake news articles, memes, or posts about things that are simply not true. For example, posts about the dangers of vaccinations are generally false if they state vaccines are dangerous. This is because vaccinations are safe for a significant majority of the population no matter what the disease is.
Reliable medical information should be backed by evidence and scientific studies that prove it to be true. Untrue medical information is typically information based on opinions, myths, and word of mouth stories. A simple search online will be able to reveal if the information you have is actually factual or just a shaky idea being spread around. Resources to consult or fact-check with include the Centers for Disease Control, Health and Human Services, and local public health departments.
What are the risks of sharing misleading medical information? How does it impact behavior?
The risks of sharing misleading medical information can’t be overlooked.
When a fake news article about a health-related topic is shared by the masses, people begin to believe it regardless of the facts that disprove the article/post/etc. The antivaxx movement is a perfect example: A group of people began to spread that vaccinations could lead to autism, developmental delays in children, and other health risks even though vaccines and autism have been proven to have no link. However, many parents across the U.S still don’t vaccinate their kids because of the resources shared by these groups.
In general, shaky medical information creates a widespread panic and fear when more times than not, the information is totally false.
How Patients Can Identify False Information
If you’ve read or heard medical information that you’re unsure of, wait to share it. Do your own searching for certified sources that back what you’ve heard, using sources like the CDC and others mentioned earlier in this post. If the information can be backed with evidence, sharing it isn’t harmful. However, if you can’t find facts to support what you’ve heard, the information is probably false and you’ll want to refrain from sharing it.
And as always, ask your doctor if you have any questions about misleading or potentially untrue medical information a friend or family member has shared online. The doctor can use their significant health experience, education, and general knowledge to filter poor medical information from consistent health facts.