Supporting Access to Health Information by Combating Social Media Misinformation

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by A.D.Pharis A.D.Pharis, BSN, RN (New)

Specializes in Emergency Nursing. Has 7 years experience.

Social media improves access to health information. However, there are risks, such as misinformation, that can harm patients and communities. Nurses should assume expert roles in online communities to combat social media misinformation.

Combating Social Media Misinformation

Supporting Access to Health Information by Combating Social Media Misinformation

Social media is an internet-based form of communication that allows users to share information and make connections. Examples of social media include facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit. Social media has become so popular that almost 70% of Americans use it daily, and its popularity emanates from its ability to establish connections, build communities, and create relationships. As nurses, we must know how social media influences health and be prepared to support patients by discerning credible information on social media sites.  

Positive Health Outcomes

One benefit social media affords is greater access to health information. Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Twitter posts educate patients on various topics, such as Respiratory Syncytial Virus, Influenza vaccines, and provide eligibility forms for the Monkey Pox vaccines. Nurses and physicians post videos on TikTok about vaccinations, washing hands, breast cancer awareness, skin cancer awareness, and promoting mental health. Local healthcare facilities create facebook groups and remind patients about annual health requirements, what to do in an emergency, and how to prepare before a storm.

Another benefit is that patients can join communities and immerse themselves with like-minded people battling similar health experiences. Organizations such as the American Red Cross monitor social media sites during crises to determine geographical areas with the greatest need.

The positive health outcomes of greater access to health information stem from the adage that knowledge is power. The more health knowledge people have, the better health decisions they can make, the better they can understand their healthcare environment, and the better they can solve their healthcare problems. 

Health Risks

Conversely, anyone can post to a social media site with relative ease. Usually, it takes a fraction of a minute to sign up for a social media account. People can post whatever they want, and, depending on their popularity, they can reach hundreds, if not millions, of people with their message.

Credentials are not required, only the ability to appear authoritative. For example, in 2017, the Federal Trade Commission filed false advertising claims against an osteopathic physician, Dr. Mercola, for misleading claims that tanning beds prevented cancer. This doctor used YouTube, a social media video platform, to disseminate his messages.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a barrage of criticism towards the COVID-19 vaccine on social media. This criticism led many people to decline vaccination despite CDC evidence unvaccinated people had five times greater risk of becoming sick than vaccinated people.

Misleading information on social media is a health risk that causes patient harm and could be detrimental to entire communities. To combat these risks, we must work toward teaching patients how to evaluate social media information for authenticity and speaking up as experts to thwart misleading information on social media sites. 

Nursing Influence

Nurses are instrumental as educators in helping decrease the health risks associated with social media. We are the most trusted health professional and have the education, skills, and experience to assist patients with deciphering between factual and misleading information. Like our local communities, a social media group is an online community. To combat misleading information, nurses should partner with online social media groups as experts to help monitor for misleading health claims. Nurses can learn how to combat social media misinformation professionally and effectively by learning from organizations like The Association for Healthcare and Social Media, a non-profit organization whose mission is to combat social media misinformation.

Another recommendation is for nurses to establish a social media presence so that their corrections to social media misinformation are shared by many. Nurses can also educate patients on distinguishing health information as reliable by teaching patients to look at crucial details, such as authorship, credentials, motivation, political tone, and supporting evidence. While our duty of care may begin and end at the bedside, as a profession, our commitment continues to the communities we are part of, including our online communities. 

With just a flip of a thumb or the click of a mouse, we have endless amounts of information at our disposal. Nurses critique information and distinguish credible resources from non-credible ones, a skill learned in nursing school that nurses should teach to patients.

With social media's tremendous impact on our daily lives, nurses should support and educate patients in online communities, just as we do in our local, geographical communities. By doing this, we can assist with greater access to health information while ensuring that only the most credible resources influence our patients and our communities. 

References

Pew Research Center: Social Media Fact Sheet

Pew Research: Why Americans Use Social Media

How Red Cross Teams Around the Globe Use Social Media for Good

FTC Providing Full Refunds to Mercola Brand Tanning Purchasers

COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy on Social Media: Building a Public Twitter Data Set of Antivaccine Content, Vaccine Misinformation, and Conspiracies

Gallup: Military Brass, Judges Among Professions at New Image Lows

JMIR Publications: US Physicians' and Nurses" Motivations, Barriers, and Recommendation for Correcting Health Misinformation of Social Media: Qualitative Interview Study

Association for Healthcare Social Media

University of Washington: How to Find Trustworthy Health Information from the Internet

Angela Pharis is an Emergency Room Nurse/Graduate Student with a passion for patient education, writing, and nursing.

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5 Comment(s)

mmc51264, ADN, BSN, MSN, RN

Specializes in orthopedic; Informatics, diabetes. Has 10 years experience. 3,131 Posts

I like the idea, but we have nurses and others in healthcare that have views that are questionable. 

I knew a nurse, I helped to orient her. She stayed at our facility barely a year (got homesick). With less than 2 years of nursing experience, got into an NP Program and 18 months later, she was an advanced practice RN in psychiatric nursing. 

She posted something on her FB page about Covid vaccines, early in the release of them, that was TOTALLY incorrect. She didn't understand how vaccines worked, about phages and basic Microbiology. She said that, as healthcare providers, we shouldn't be advocating for vaccination. 

When I asked about her rationale regarding her stance, she got all defensive and blocked me. I seems like we are churning out advanced practice providers that don't seem to know basic biology/physiology. I was a pre-vet Biology major before I found my way to nursing. I have WAY more foundation about how body systems work (animals and people are not too terribly different in the basics like Krebs, phages, electrolyte function, etc). I am utterly stunned at how "dumbed down" the nursing curriculum has become and I have only been at this about 12 years. 

I have had physicians tell me they can "cure" my 2 kids' type 1 diabetes. oy. 

toomuchbaloney

toomuchbaloney

Specializes in NICU, PICU, Transport, L&D, Hospice. Has 43 years experience. 9,467 Posts

3 minutes ago, mmc51264 said:

I like the idea, but we have nurses and others in healthcare that have views that are questionable. 

I knew a nurse, I helped to orient her. She stayed at our facility barely a year (got homesick). With less than 2 years of nursing experience, got into an NP Program and 18 months later, she was an advanced practice RN in psychiatric nursing. 

She posted something on her FB page about Covid vaccines, early in the release of them, that was TOTALLY incorrect. She didn't understand how vaccines worked, about phages and basic Microbiology. She said that, as healthcare providers, we shouldn't be advocating for vaccination. 

When I asked about her rationale regarding her stance, she got all defensive and blocked me. I seems like we are churning out advanced practice providers that don't seem to know basic biology/physiology. I was a pre-vet Biology major before I found my way to nursing. I have WAY more foundation about how body systems work (animals and people are not too terribly different in the basics like Krebs, phages, electrolyte function, etc). I am utterly stunned at how "dumbed down" the nursing curriculum has become and I have only been at this about 12 years. 

I have had physicians tell me they can "cure" my 2 kids' type 1 diabetes. oy. 

This is the modern era of conmen, grifters and charlatans.  A large segment of our population has been conditioned to believe things without evidence or foundation in facts and they are vulnerable to the liars and cheats.  

mmc51264, ADN, BSN, MSN, RN

Specializes in orthopedic; Informatics, diabetes. Has 10 years experience. 3,131 Posts

4 minutes ago, toomuchbaloney said:

This is the modern era of conmen, grifters and charlatans.  A large segment of our population has been conditioned to believe things without evidence or foundation in facts and they are vulnerable to the liars and cheats.  

totally agree and they are so slick, it is very difficult for many to tell the difference. 

PositiveEnergy

PositiveEnergy, MSN, PhD, RN, APN

Specializes in Family, Maternal-Child Health. Has 44 years experience. 2 Articles; 17 Posts

I totally agree that nurses should help their patients discern what is evidence based information and reliable, versus information that is haphazard and lacks supportive data.  People are vulnerable to misinformation especially when ill.

Yes, nurses do play a key role, but the issue I see that affects their effectiveness is so often within our own profession there are so many checks and balances on critiquing proposed ideas/information that the delay time often hampers timely presentation of informative information.  So in order to share their thoughts in the moment some end up posting less then professional information.  Still another concern I see is different healthcare professionals need to support the voice of their multidisciplinary colleagues instead of each trying to "outshine the other" - patients would likely receive more comprehensive and well-rounded information.  We have to remember we too do not have all the answers, but we can work with our colleagues to put out quality social media responses and information.         

A.D.Pharis, BSN, RN

Specializes in Emergency Nursing. Has 7 years experience. 1 Article; 3 Posts

So many people are spreading misinformation, It's imperative that those of us who value evidenced-based information to speak up and against false information we see and hear. There is always going to be those people out for money or to try to con people but, yes, we should work with our colleagues, use our knowledge of evidenced based care, and speak-up and against the false information we hear and even if we have to speak against our own colleagues. I agree, there are some people in healthcare that spread false information. They need to be challenged with our evidenced based information. If all people hear is false information, that is what they will believe.