Health misinformation costs lives, warns Surgeon General

Preventing the spread of disinformation about COVID-19 is a matter of life and death, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA said Thursday.

“Health disinformation has cost us lives,” Murthy said during a White House press briefing. “While it often appears harmless on social media apps, retail sites, or search engines, the truth is that misinformation robs us of our freedom to make informed decisions about our health and the health of our people. During the COVID 19 pandemic, health misinformation led people to resist wearing masks in high-risk settings, causing them to refuse proven treatments and choose not to be vaccinated. “

Murthy, who said he lost 10 family members to the coronavirus, released a Surgeon General’s Opinion Thursday on disinformation. “Advisories are reserved for urgent threats to public health. And although these threats are often linked to what we eat, drink and smoke, we today live in a world where disinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to the public. health of our country, ”he said. .

The 22-page advisory includes recommendations for various groups, including:

  • Individuals, families and communities. Learn how to identify and avoid sharing misguided health information, the advisory suggests. “When many of us share wrong information, we don’t do it intentionally: we try to tell others and don’t realize the information is wrong,” the document said. “Verify the accuracy of the information by checking with reliable and credible sources. If you are unsure, do not share.” The advisory suggests how to talk to family and friends who are spreading misinformation: “If someone you care about has the wrong perception, you may be able to make some progress with them by seeking to understand first. place to pass judgment. Try new ways to engage: Listen with empathy, establish common ground, ask questions, provide explanations and alternative sources of information, stay calm, and don’t wait for a single conversation to succeed. ” He also suggests working with schools and community groups such as places of worship, parent-teacher associations, and healthcare providers to develop local strategies to counter disinformation, such as asking a healthcare professional. give a lecture in a school or church.
  • Health professionals and health organizations. “Doctors, nurses and other clinicians are highly reliable and can be effective in combating health misinformation,” the advisory stresses. “If you are a clinician, take the time to understand the knowledge, beliefs and values ​​of each patient. Listen with empathy and, if possible, correct misinformation in a personalized way. When discussing health issues, consider using less technical language that is accessible to everyone. patients. “The opinion also suggests using technology and media platforms to share information with the public, and having professional associations equip their members to serve as subject matter experts to journalists.” Organizations such as hospital systems can work with community members to develop localized public health messages, and associations and other health organizations should provide training for clinicians on how to tackle misinformation in a way that keeps them up to date. take into account the diverse needs, concerns, histories and experiences of patients., states the document
  • Researchers and research institutes. Researchers and institutions that monitor disinformation should focus on a wider range of content and platforms, as well as the flow of information between platforms, such as image and video-based content and online content. many languages. “To address existing research limitations, expand data collection methods (eg, recruit social media users to voluntarily share data),” the opinion continues. The paper also urges more efforts to quantify the harmful effects of misinformation on health. “How and under what conditions does disinformation affect beliefs, behaviors and health outcomes? What is the role of emotion, cognition and identity in keeping disinformation “sticking”? What is the cost to society if disinformation goes unchecked? Opinion urges researchers to invite community members to participate in research design

“In a moment like this, when we see misinformation, literally costing us our loved ones, costing us lives, we all have to ask ourselves how can we be more responsible for the information we share?” Murthy said during the briefing. “At the end of the day, we all have an important role to play.”

He singled out technology companies, whose role he said was “particularly important”; the opinion asks them to strengthen the control of disinformation; prioritize the early detection of disinformation “super-diffusers”; and protect health professionals, journalists and others from harassment.

“We know that the dramatic increase in the speed and scale of the spread of disinformation has been in part enabled by these platforms, which is why in this notice today we are calling on them to ‘step up,’ he said. “We know they have taken action to combat disinformation, but much, much more needs to be done, and we cannot wait any longer for them to take aggressive action because it is costing people their lives. “

“When it comes to figuring out what’s right in terms of health information, science has to guide us, and the good news is we have credible scientists in our country,” Murthy said. “The problem right now is that the voices of these professionals are being stifled, and that’s one of the reasons we’re asking tech companies to help make the voices of credible health authorities heard. It’s also why. they need to do more to reduce the misinformation that circulates, so that the real voices of the experts can shine through. ”

During a question-and-answer session, Murthy was asked if misinformation was the reason people didn’t get vaccinated.

“This is one of the many reasons people don’t get vaccinated, but it’s a very important reason, because what we know from the polls is that two-thirds of the people who are not vaccinated believe common myths about the COVID-19 vaccine or think some of these myths might be true, ”he said.“ So we know that is not the only factor holding people back to get vaccinated, but that’s a very important factor. “

  • Joyce Frieden oversees Washington’s coverage of MedPage Today, including articles about Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, health professional associations and federal agencies. She has 35 years of experience in health policy. To pursue

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