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Medical Misinformation Exposure Reduces Patient Health Literacy

More than 70 percent of Americans have been exposed to medical misinformation with nearly half unable to distinguish accurate information from false, underscoring a lack of patient health literacy.

Medical misinformation has been spreading rapidly nationwide, causing many Americans to struggle to identify the difference between fact and fiction and hampering patient health literacy, according to new research from GoodRx.

Close to three-quarters of the 1,000 adult survey participants had been exposed to inaccurate medical or health information. Furthermore, 16 percent stated they were unable to decide if they had been exposed.

The volume of medical misinformation has negative consequences, including vaccine hesitancy and medical mistrust, researchers said.

The spread of misinformation has impacted individuals’ skills to decipher health information, researchers stated. The findings showed that 44 percent of people reported low confidence in their ability to distinguish the accuracy of medical information.

Researchers found that a sizeable proportion of people were concerned about the spread of misinformation, with 87 percent of participants reporting concern and 19 percent reporting a strong concern. 

Researchers concluded that social media is the biggest offender of medical misinformation, with 82 percent of those who reported seeing misinformation stating they encountered it on a social media platform. In addition, participants stated the majority of medical misinformation seen on social media platforms was concerning COVID-19 topics, such as vaccine credibility.

Medical misinformation spread by family and friends was the second-most common method for exposure, with 66 percent of respondents stating such. Respondents have also reported seeing misinformation through TV news, internet searches, US government officials, and healthcare providers.

Information sources have been found to greatly influence COVID-19 knowledge and protective health behaviors like social distancing and wearing a mask, a separate NYU School of Global Health study stated.

People who greatly rely on informal sources such as family, friends, and social media had the lowest knowledge about COVID-19 and were among the least likely to engage in protective behaviors.

 Participants who reported media, government or other official sources, or medical providers as their primary information sources had the highest levels of COVID-19 knowledge.

The researchers emphasized that the most effective way of promoting community-level effective behavior is to move away from the traditional mass-scale communication methods and move toward channels where individuals are more willing to seek information.

Health misinformation has become a main focus for public health officials. Last year, the US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, released a toolkit to provide resources aimed at identifying and combatting health misinformation.

The toolkit offers guidance for individuals, specifically calling upon healthcare professionals and administrators, teachers, school administrators, librarians, and faith leaders to understand, identify, and evaluate the accuracy of health information within their communities.

In hopes of controlling the spread of misinformation, the toolkit resources include a checklist to help evaluate the accuracy of health-related content, guidelines to talk to loved ones about health misinformation; an outline of common types of misinformation and disinformation tactics; and reflections and examples of times individuals may have encountered misinformation. 

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