For years, physicians have been discouraged from speaking up and sharing information in the social media space, and as a result, misinformation and disinformation was given the opportunity to flourish. And according to Pew Research, more than one half of younger adults get much, if not all, of their news and information from social media, which we know is littered with part, mislead, or just false information.
Those who get much of their information via social media channels are often only exposed to information that further aligns with their or their social circle’s own views. This phenomenon has real-world consequences when it comes to an individual’s beliefs and subsequent health decisions. The average person spends 2 hours per day on social media, yet only 15 minutes, four times a year with their physician. How are we possibly supposed to compete with the steady stream of incomplete or frankly just inaccurate health information?
Physicians are one of the most trusted and respected professions, and we no longer can ignore or avoid correcting or addressing misinformation when we confront it in the clinic or online. We must educate ourselves and our colleagues to learn the skills needed for, and understand the importance of, consistent yet respective discourse with patients. These conversations are not always easy and often do not occur in a single setting, but all physicians speaking up and consistently correcting misinformation can, and will, have a positive impact.
Physicians specialize in relationships, trust, and understanding with our patients and families. Collaboration, connection, and compassion are all key adjectives, and who better to do this work than physicians?
A strong and trusted social media account should be considered a tool in the medical bag of the 21st century physician for sharing accurate and trusted information beyond the four walls of the clinic, office, or hospital. We must educate ourselves to spot misinformation and, to stop it in its tracks, not hit the “like” or “share” button. Furthermore, we must not comment on or engage with misinformation, as doing so only boosts its reach; we should ignore, block, and move on.
No single person or approach is going stem the tide of pervasive misinformation and disinformation. It’s going to take all of us to educate ourselves, our colleagues, and our patients.