Healthcare Information: Who Can Be Trusted?

Navigating Health Misinformation Online

With every person offering healthcare advice (whether you asked for it or not), how can we as nurses help the general public know who to trust?

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Navigating Health Misinformation Online

A virus is actually cancer. You have night sweats? Hate to tell you this, but you probably have tuberculosis. Having headaches? Oof, better check for a brain tumor. Want to lose weight? Try this pill or “fit tummy tea.” Also, stop eating carbs - just make burgers with bell peppers as your buns… Well, at least that’s what the Internet or social media platforms will tell you. Some of these claims seem ridiculous and obviously unreliable, but in a world filled with medical confusion, fear, and desire for instant knowledge, these claims can be accepted along with many others. When the pandemic occurred, everyone and their neighbor became healthcare experts, so the question became, who can you trust for your health information… 

 Aside from Google, Tik Tok, Twitter, and facebook seem to be common sources of healthcare information. Why are these sites so popular? Well, it’s much easier to type something and get an instant result than it is to wait a week to be able to see your primary care provider. Additionally, these sites often include videos or reels, which are often easier to understand than a medical professional spouting out confusing terms. Also, the advice often seems more cost-effective. How easy is it to go to the store, get some apple cider vinegar and drink a bit of that each morning compared to going to the doctor’s, getting a prescription, waiting for that to be filled, and then paying a hefty price tag along with it? So not only do you get instant access to knowledge, but also a quick and easy fix as well.

Since social media use is only growing, what can we do to decrease the misinformation that’s out there? Well, the good news is there is awareness of the wide misinformation by the general public. Thus, there has been a push recently for greater monitoring of healthcare claims on these sites. In fact, it was recently announced that Twitter will be developing a content moderation council. One way we as healthcare professionals can advocate for less spread of misinformation is by supporting developments like these. We can also try to get more accurate information circulating on these sites by sharing information from reputable sites. I’m not saying we should all try to become “Tik Tok famous,” but we can be mindful of what we share or post on our own social media platforms to ensure we aren’t adding to the spread of misinformation. 

As with anything in nursing, we can act as educators. Topics we can discuss include how to tell if a source is reliable, how to check if an author is credible, and resources. 

  • To point them in the direction of reliable sources, seek out websites ending in .edu, .gov, or .org, and be wary of those ending in .com. The reason websites ending in .com may not be the most trustworthy is because those sites can be made by practically anyone, whereas the others are either government, educational, or nonprofit organizations. Examples of reputable sites for healthcare information include CDC.gov, nih.gov, healthline.gov, healthfinder.gov, mayoclinic.com, etcetera. It is also important to remind patients to check when the source was written since health information is ever-evolving. 
  • Checking the credibility of the author is also important, especially when it comes to social media. Questions to ask include what credentials does this person have to share this information? Are they sharing facts or opinions? Do they cite their sources?
  • When it comes to resources, there is often a local “call a nurse” phone number that anyone can call. The nurse on the phone essentially acts as triage and helps the patient decide if they need to seek treatment or are safe to stay at home. This is particularly helpful in avoiding unnecessary ER visits.  Columbia University also has an online resource called Go Ask Alice, in which users can post their own health questions or browse a variety of topics about other things that have been asked. This is a great source for credible information compared to a generic Google search as the responses are generated from a team of health care experts. 

In regards to if the media has killed common sense when it comes to health, I don’t think so. Rather, it has provided the opportunity for people to use their curiosity to take control of their health. As the demand for healthcare information grows, we can do our part to clear the confusion of what sources can be trusted and work to ensure that the information supplied is accurate.


References

Online Health Information: Is It Reliable?

Recommended Health Websites - University of Michigan

Health Misinformation Is A Pandemic, and Social Media Is Desperately Trying To Navigate it

1 In 10 Americans Turn To Social Media For Health Information, New Survey Shows

Go Ask Alice! - Columbia University

Hi! My name is Raven Heuertz and I am a new grad nurse. I work in the NICU and am passionate about what I do. I love connecting with others and learning new things. When I am not working you can find me reading, working out, watching hockey or figuring out my next item to bake :)

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Emergent, RN

2 Articles; 4,062 Posts

Specializes in ER. Has 30 years experience.

I think it's terrible to try to censor new ideas. You sound like you against trying home remedies,  that people should get a prescriptions for everything. 

One problem in America,  where drug advertising became legal in the 1980s, thanks to the Reagan administration,  is that we are the most over-medicated society in the world.

Regarding cutting out carbs: I did keto and then switched to a low carb, high fat diet several years ago. I lost some weight and felt a lot better. My total cholesterol was 200 before this change. My HDL was high so I didn't worry about that. I'm very physically active. I just had my cholesterol done last week and my total cholesterol is now 134, and my HDL is 97. That is on a high in saturated fat diet. 

raven_h17, BSN

2 Articles; 7 Posts

Specializes in NICU. Has 2 years experience.

@Emergent, RN

I am so sorry if it came off that I was against home remedies! I agree with you that we are an overmedicated society and I did not intend to imply that home remedies are not useful. I absolutely think they are a wonderful thing. 

Secondly, I am glad that the keto diet worked for you. My aim in using the example of using peppers as buns was not that keto is evil, but rather that the audience should check the credibility of the person offering the advice. Oftentimes these advice videos appear on TikTok which has a many young users and often have disordered eating language. You can read more about that here if you like: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/09/tiktok-nutrition-related-content-may-contribute-to-disordered-eating.html

Thank you for reading and your comment!

Specializes in Family, Maternal-Child Health. Has 45 years experience.

I think you left the reader with some good points to think about as well as to take away to their clients.  So true that people are struggling with healthcare cost, as well as just having funds for deductibles to cover for healthcare services.  So to compensate they ask friends for advise, plus scroll the internet for answers.  So many times people pop vitamins and herbs not realizing these items really are just "supplements".  And these "fixs" if taken as frequently as suggested on internet ads can in turn cause other health issues.

One of my concerns is the early morning radio talk shows (2 am, 3 am...) often listened to by older adults because they can't sleep for reasons like pain, so they listen to the radio. These stations host individuals who state their credentials as MD, PhD... who profess to have the answer to so many health issues if one takes their vitamins, drinks, supplement...  These guest speakers will profess to have tested and found "reliable" results.  But one has to wonder about their research methods, their desire for quick money and how reliable their credentials are.

I think too the elderly who listen to these radio programs do so because they don't have the skills to surf the internet, so they get hooked into these remedies the old fashion way.  I guess no matter the age.... we all have to teach our patients to be aware of where they are getting their information because social media, is social media, whatever the source.  Patients be ware!