Beyond Fact Correction: A Path Forward For Health Care Professionals To Address Patient-Held Misinformation

By engaging in productive conversations with patients, we can build trust and promote accurate and reliable health information.

Marie Ennis
Digital Health Matters

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Most patients trust their healthcare professionals, but they also look for medical information outside the exam room. Although many resources offer accurate information (e.g., government health agencies, professional organizations, and patient advocacy groups), not all information is reliable. Medical misinformation can be found online from a variety of sources, which can have serious health consequences. Patients who rely on inaccurate information may make decisions that negatively impact their health, delay or avoid necessary treatments, or even harm themselves by taking inappropriate or dangerous treatments.

The internet and social media have made it easier for individuals to access and share health information, but this also means that false or misleading information can spread quickly and easily. Patients may encounter medical misinformation in various forms, such as social media posts, blogs, online forums, and videos.

Health care professionals must address patient-held misinformation as part of providing high-quality care. It is not enough to discredit misperceptions in order to effectively address misinformation. The opportunity to encounter patient-held misinformation allows clinicians to gain insight into patient values, preferences, comprehension, and information diets.

The systematic training of health care professionals to address patient-held misinformation with empathy and curiosity, while acknowledging time and resource constraints, will be a crucial contribution to future mitigation of medical misinformation.

Active listening

By actively listening to patients’ concerns, health care professionals can gain insight into the sources and nature of the misinformation that patients hold. Understanding misinformation as a force in a patient’s life requires assessment of the patient’s own lived context, including experiences with the health care system, friends and family, religious or spiritual beliefs, and therapeutic choices. Healthcare professionals can then use this information to tailor their communication strategies to address the specific concerns and misconceptions of each patient, using a range of communication strategies, such as plain language, visual aids and analogies.

Providing context

In addition to fact correction, health care professionals can provide context that helps patients understand why the misinformation they hold is incorrect or incomplete. Providing context can help patients see the bigger picture and understand the relevance of the information that health care professionals are providing.

Empathy

Addressing patient-held misinformation requires empathy. Health care professionals should seek to understand the emotional and psychological impact that the misinformation may have on the patient, and should provide reassurance and support where appropriate. It is essential for healthcare providers to create a safe and non-judgmental environment where patients feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. By engaging in open and honest dialogue, patients and healthcare providers can work together to create a shared understanding of the patient’s health needs and treatment options.

Developing a plan of action

Health care professionals can work with patients to develop a plan of action for addressing their misinformation. Patients will continue to seek medical advice from the Internet, peers, and family members. In light of this, healthcare providers should encourage patients to seek information from trusted resources and provide information on reliable sources. They can also provide patients with educational materials that explain how to evaluate health information found on the internet and social media.

Monitor social media

Healthcare professionals can use fact-checking tools and online resources to verify the accuracy of medical information and respond to inaccurate claims in a timely and effective manner. By providing accurate information and engaging with patients on social media, healthcare professionals can build trust and credibility with patients, which can improve the patient-provider relationship.

Relationship building

Finally, healthcare professionals must be willing to invest time and effort into building relationships with their patients. By building trust and rapport with patients, health care professionals can increase the likelihood that patients will be receptive to their advice and guidance.

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Marie Ennis
Digital Health Matters

Healthcare Communications Strategist | Keynote Speaker | HIMSS FUTURE50 Awardee