How to recognize and combat misinformation in healthcare

Sept. 7, 2022

Confronting misinformation, which is false, inaccurate, or misleading information, is essential for ensuring healthy individuals and communities. Throughout the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals turned to online sources to learn more about the spread of the novel virus, causing misinformation to spread. Opening up a conversation with your constituents about finding credible information in the age of technology can help build trust, improve communication, and create healthy habits beneficial for individual and communal health! 

Misinformation is often posted on the internet and is shared through text messages and emails. To reduce the spread of misinformation, evaluate information found online using the SIFT Method! 

  • Stop
    • Evaluate the website you're using. Consider your purpose for being on this website and check for any suspicious activity on the website. Look for websites operated by medical experts such as the National Library of Medicine or Mayo Clinic.
  • Investigate the source
    • Looking up the source on a search engine can help gauge if the website is credible or if there are any red flags. 
  • Find trusted coverage
    • Compare multiple sources about a topic to understand the consensus or views on the subject. Remember that an expert in one field might not be an expert in another discipline; checking an expert's credentials can help evaluate an online source's credibility.
  • Trace to the original
    • Find where the original information was initially published. Is the data used out of context? If so, the source is spreading misinformation and should not be used.

Addressing misinformation requires active engagement with patients, communities, and the public about health misinformation. Try using the following communication methods with your patients when addressing misinformation! 

  1. Listen to their fears.
    1. Provide a judgment-free safe space for the individual to discuss their fears, feelings, and beliefs about the subject. 
  2. Empathize
    1. Open up the conversation and ask them questions about their beliefs. Questions should relate to the topic and not make the individual feel uncomfortable or defensive about their fears.
    2. Be willing to relate and talk about times you have believed misinformation and what you did when you found out the information you previously thought to be true was false.
  3. Point to Credible sources
    1. Continue to empathize and assure the individual that finding accurate information can be challenging. Talk about the importance of finding credible information and breakdown the SIFT method. 
  4. Don't publicly shame.
    1. Try to have these vulnerable conversations one-on-one, and avoid having conversations in the comment section of a post that has the potential to backfire. Remember to be empathetic and gentle in your replies.