Media Influence on Healthcare: Is It Disingenuous or Dependable?

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by CMagill CMagill, BSN, RN (New)

Specializes in Emergency. Has 21 years experience.

Media is everywhere, and when it comes to health-related content it can be difficult to ascertain facts from nonsense. The extent in which we allow the media to shape our perception of healthcare is a key factor in whether we will retain and apply common sense when making medical decisions.

Should we allow the media to influence our healthcare decisions?

Media Influence on Healthcare: Is It Disingenuous or Dependable?

Media reaches the general public in a variety of ways. Market Business News describes media as “the communication channels through which we disseminate news, music, movies, education, promotional messages, and other data. It includes physical and online newspapers and magazines, television, radio, telephone, the Internet, fax, and billboards.”

Healthcare-related matters are often the topic of choice among different media outlets, and good or bad, this inevitably contributes to public opinion, which then influences healthcare-related decisions. New stories tend to highlight errors or mistakes. Pink’s musical track “Just Like A Pill” implies the nurse is not available or is unwilling to meet the patient’s need. The negativity found in these forms of media promotes distrust between the public and healthcare professionals.

When interviewing candidates for an ED position, several nurses stated they applied because they “watch Grey’s Anatomy.” Movies and television shows with a health-centered theme that do not depict real-world medical processes lead to confusion and frustration when the public struggles to separate reality from entertainment. Whether intentional or not, the underlying tone of various news stories, music, and TV shows is derogatory and full of mockery, broadcasting a message to society that healthcare professionals are not professionals at all.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media in Healthcare

Social media adds another layer of complexity. It is becoming more customary for organizations and individuals to use digital methods to recruit experienced coworkers, share information and market their services, and bring attention to health-related conditions that could potentially be life-threatening if left undiagnosed or untreated. While evidence does exist to show that social media can add value to healthcare practices, this approach to communication is not without significant shortcomings.

A major concern is the amount of misinformation that is easily accessible and widely disseminated. There are few to no restrictions when it comes to posting health-related material on social media platforms, and there is no review process to corroborate the qualifications of the author or the truthfulness of the published content. Additionally, the use of social media changes the professional nature of the provider-to-patient relationship and introduces opportunities for confidential information to be made public.

I have seen both positive and negative effects of mixing media and health-centered content. For example, patients who are unsure of which level of care they need can easily find this information. Chest pain? Go to the emergency department. Sore throat? Go to urgent care. On the other hand, online searching can turn minor symptoms into perceived emergencies when the information is not processed appropriately.

A Cultural Shift

Over the years, I have seen the influential role in healthcare shift from the provider to the patient. With so much information readily available, patients feel empowered to direct their care, and the media has played a large part in leading patients to assume the prominent role when it comes to making healthcare decisions. An unfortunate side effect is that medical expertise is often taking a backseat to internet searches.

Patients used to present to the ED and describe the symptoms they were experiencing and then allow the physician to formulate a plan of care. Now they state the diagnosis they think is a good fit based on information they find online and then make demands regarding testing and treatment. Patients today are more reluctant to consider the educated opinion of the provider at their bedside.

Nurses Are Not Immune to Google Searches

I recently participated in my own online search. My son got a piece of food lodged in his esophagus. A biopsy was collected during the endoscopy procedure while in the emergency department. When the result became available, the surgeon expressed concern for possible Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE). I have over twenty years of clinical experience, but I was not familiar with EoE. So, I consulted “Dr. Google.” A quick internet search was the easiest and fastest way to get the information I needed. Upon hitting the Enter key, I had eight million results instantly at my fingertips!

I explored every bit of information I could find on sites such as MedlinePlus.gov and MayoClinic.org. I was confident the information found there would be authentic. However, mixed in with the dependable sites were also a multitude of “.com” pages that claimed to produce “official” patient content. When reading further, I concluded that the intention of those articles was to promote a product and entice me to open my wallet, not to deliver information to a mom (who forgot for a moment she’s a nurse) who was trying to decide if her son really might have this rare disease and what to do about it.

How Do We Keep Common Sense Alive?

Sites like The National Institutes of Health (NIH) are trying to help turn confusion into clarity. They have published tips to help consumers maintain a degree of common sense when navigating the online world to find health-related material. Some suggestions include only viewing sites from “trusted sources,” such as those that end in .gov, .org, and .edu, and avoiding sites that offer a quick and/or easy treatment option for a complicated medical problem.

So, to what extent should we allow the media to influence our healthcare decisions? This is not a “one size fits all” answer. As nurses, we want to educate with certainty and refrain from contributing to any misconceptions, so we must be diligent when using media to grow our own knowledge and cautious when determining if the information is worthy of passing along.


References/Resources

Market Business News: What is media? Definition and meaning

NIH News In Health: Finding Reliable Health Information Online

Online Master of Public Health: The Role of Social Media in Healthcare – A Public Health Perspective

Pink – Just Like A Pill

University of California San Francisco: Should You Go To Urgent Care Or The Emergency Room?

CMagill has 21 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in Emergency.

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2 Comment(s)

Weetywill

Weetywill

Has 9 years experience. 147 Posts

This is a great post. I often use Google as well. I feel in today's politically charged climate that we should not get our medical information from any MSM sources.  I find it is too bias. 

Speak with your Dr in private, that is the best way for medical advise. In my opinion. 

PositiveEnergy

PositiveEnergy, MSN, PhD, RN, APN

Specializes in Family, Maternal-Child Health. Has 44 years experience. 2 Articles; 16 Posts

You know for quite some time healthcare professionals have been encouraging people to take control of their health, to practice preventative health, and to be proactive in their own care.  Consequently people have learned to become active in their own care - developing more personal autonomy.  With this mindset, people are looking for their own answers and searching the net for explanations.  With such overwhelming mounds of seemingly legitimate information people can easily  become schamed into unfounded treatment recommendations, herbal medicines/vitamins and quick-fix options.