Making Healthcare Decisions in an Age of Over-Information: An ICU RN's Perspective

A personal perspective on how media can influence our health & healthcare decisions Nurses General Nursing Knowledge

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Making Healthcare Decisions in an Age of Over-Information: An ICU RN's Perspective

Making informed healthcare decisions in the 2020's has changed drastically compared to 100 years ago.

Let's look at healthcare during the 1920's. This decade brought us insurance, insulin, penicillin, vitamins, heart valve surgery, and the FDA didn't even begin monitoring and regulating pharmaceutical drugs until 1938-1940! Today there are pharmaceutical drugs galore, and heart valve surgery can be performed non-invasively with a short recovery time. Shoot, an open-heart surgery patient is up out of bed by 0500am the next day and home by post-op day 7. Of course, these measures are if things go as planned, but to say the least, things in healthcare have changed drastically.

Media overshadows the exponential growth we have seen in healthcare. 100 years ago, there was no TV, let alone the internet. This left people to get their information from good old-fashioned paper news, word of mouth, or the radio, which was considered "mass" media of the time. TVs didn't become available to the public until 1939, and 54 years later, in 1993, the internet was first available to the public.

It is a generally known fact that the exponential growth of media, now primarily social, has created so many opportunities for people throughout the world. Providing people essentially everywhere access to information, as well as enabling people to connect from anywhere.

As with anything in this world, there is good and bad, social media is no exception to this universal rule. Within the last few years, more and more insight has been brought to the attention of the negative attributes that media, especially social, may be bringing into our society. Some popular examples of this topic being brought to attention include the Netflix shows "The Social Dilemma,” "The Great Hack,” and "Mind Explained, Ep. Brainwashing". Real conversations are also being had on this topic by people like Lex Fridman, podcast host, who has multiple insightful discussions with Mark Zuckerberg (for) and Jonathan Haidt (against) social media.

With all the information on this topic, I think it is safe to say that most everyone is at least aware that there are Pros & Cons of social media.

So how does this all affect making a healthcare decision?

It didn't really hit me until about month 4 of the pandemic. As an ICU RN during this, I was stressed, anxious, scared, and tired ... and I wasn't even seeing patient numbers like my nurse friends in NYC or some other bigger cities. I knew some of this was normal, but these emotions were like a fully blown-up balloon, ready to pop, and I couldn't get a moment's relief from it. I was watching the news on multiple channels, reading multiple articles on the topic every day, I was checking COVID numbers 3 times a day, I was researching the latest evidence to treat the virus; I was always anticipating the next thing the media was amping up for, and always talking about it with someone, from patients to co-workers, friends, and family. Everything I was living, breathing, and thinking was about COVID. 

Then out of seemingly nowhere, it dawned on me ... the media was affecting my health and my healthcare decisions. I couldn't find relief when I came home due to the media and the outpouring of information on this newly debated hot topic. That was the day I stepped away from watching mainstream media on a regular basis, and I have never looked back.

Within the first two weeks I could feel the shift in my attitude; all those emotions were still there, but they were now more like a deflated balloon, not one on the edge of popping inside me. When I began to reflect, I realized how "extra" the media was, how much the news stories are hyped up, and how they are truly creating "FUD,” fear, uncertainty, and doubt. It didn't matter that I was educated, that I was physically able to see what was happening in my hospital and my unit, that I can typically differentiate fact from fiction, that I had amazing support rationalizing my irrational mind, the media pulled me into their dramatized opinions, and I was certainly affected by this on a physical and emotional level. It made sense; what we see and hear on a regular basis is known to influence our decisions and perspective. Therefore, by flooding my brain with all this health information, it was constantly trying to process all of this information that I was taking in.

Since having this perspective shift, I have changed the way I access, process, and reflect on media, especially when it comes to my health decisions. When making health decisions, I go into full BSN mode by researching the topic.

DON'T DO to get my healthcare information 

  • Listen to the news to find out if I should get my next booster or ANY treatment
  • Listen to any news channel's opinion on how bad things are related to healthcare
  • Listen to a podcast for healthcare information
  • Read a journalistic opinion piece to source information for my health decisions. 
  • Watch random YouTubers opinions (some experts make great content if you find them)
  • Read social media posts for healthcare decisions
  • Get stuck in an "echo chamber" of the same opinion
  • Listen/watch the news 7 days a week

DO to get my healthcare information

  • Find credentialed experts who are experienced in the area I am focused on at this time. 
  • Ensure the experts explore all opinions and perspectives they are  aware of
  • Expert must be open to exploring a new different concept if it is brought to their attention
  • Identify where these professionals are getting their information from
  • Look over information the expert sources data from
  • Source information from multiple experts with varying opinions 
  • Ensure you are sourcing multiple perspectives and opinions from experts
  • Watch/listen to news headlines 3-4 times per week

Sounds like a lot of requirements just to source information and make decisions. To me, this effort is worth it. Healthcare information is not and will never be "black and white" there will always be an area of grey. This is due to the abundance of information, evolving science, and the mere fact we are all different. Choices that are right for me may be wrong for someone else due to our difference in health, lifestyle, genetics, personality, environment, access, etc.

We are all different and the choices we make for our life and our health need to be what is best for our individual health, physical and emotional.

As an ICU RN who not only lived through but worked through the pandemic, my plea to everyone is to stop making healthcare decisions based on the opinions of those around you, including any media. Research multiple experts with an open mind to the evolving science and perspectives. Make informed decisions for yourself. Ensure the information sourced is from valid experts with valid credentials, as well as experts who use valid data to form their professional opinions. We are all so interconnected these days that it is easy to forget that we all have different, individual needs, even on a healthcare level. 


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Erin Lee has 10 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in CCRN, Procedural RN, Care Coordination, LNC.

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Specializes in Patient Safety Advocate; HAI Prevention.

Great article!  Thank you for this.  The only thing I don't 100% agree with is this  "We are all different and the choices we make for our life and our health need to be what is best for our individual health, physical and emotional."  In most cases, this is absolutely true, but during a pandemic, it is too narrow.  It remains important, but we have to consider everyone around us...our families, communities, and even our States and nation when we make healthcare choices during a pandemic.  I hate that the pandemic happened, and still is not over.  It was the worst of times, particularly for working healthcare professionals.  My hope is that it never happens again and that we and our healthcare system can recover from a terrible blow.  Thank you for all that you do. 

Specializes in Critical Care, Procedural, Care Coordination, LNC.

Thank you so much for your feedback @KathyDayI fully understand what you are expressing with the narrowness of "We are all different and the choices we make for our life and our health need to be what is best for our individual health, physical and emotional."   The concept I am trying to express here is quite challenging to express, and rather dualistic. My attempt was to identify that each person is different; health, personality, experiences, and perspectives. All of these differences ultimately affect our healthcare choices. Human beings are going to have different  perspectives, no matter what, even during times of crisis and trauma, therefore decisions I may make may not be the best for another. Do I wish that everyone could understand why a vaccine or mask is so important during a pandemic, heck yes! Unfortunately this will never be the case, as each of our experiences are so different, therefore what is best for each individual is also going to vary. My goal as a HCP is to understand everyone in their different perspectives & choices, not judge them, try to really understand them and meet them where they are, then educate as best I can from that place.