Providers battle ‘fake’ healthcare news

Woman using her smartphone
"Fake news" isn't just a political issue—it's also a major problem in healthcare. (Getty/diego_cervo)

The term “fake news” is thrown around a lot in political discussions, but false or misleading information is also a major problem in healthcare.

Roy Buchinsky, M.D., director of wellness for University Hospitals in Cleveland, said the number of patients influenced or confused by research or misleading advertising is a “pervasive” issue for providers.

“The problem today is that there are so many outlets where you can get information, whether it's Dr. Google or any of the TV sites you can get,” Buchinsky told News 5 Cleveland.

Fake medical news can have patient care consequences. Many patients fail to read beyond a viral headline, and, particularly if stories are linked to highly communicable diseases, it can have significant impact on a patient’s physical and emotional health, FierceHealthcare has reported.

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Patient misinformation is compounded by the way the current media landscape operates, Kelly McBride, vice president of the Poynter Institute, which promotes responsible journalism and offers training for reporters and media outlets, told The Atlantic.

Part of the problem, she said, is that scientific research doesn’t always necessarily gel with how journalists like to do business. The scientific process is often slow work.

“In science, good information is really boring,” McBride said. “Science doesn’t leap ahead the way journalists like to cover it.”

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Groups that deny climate change or spread false information about vaccines often seize upon that slow pace, claiming there are still unanswered questions even if there's a clear scientific consensus, she said.

As providers become more aware of this issue, they can take steps to correct it. Doctors can guide patients toward more accurate information in regular visits, or can take matters into their own hands and engage with them directly online, where much of the misinformation is spread.