According to dictionary.com, misinformation can be described as false information that is spread regardless of the intent to mislead. Medical misinformation represents any medical information distributed within the population that is not supported by current scientific evidence, and that has not been proven through available models of scrutiny of its truthfulness. Like the global pandemic, the spread of misinformation globally is another crucial infodemic.
In this age of information technology, medical misinformation can spread very fast in a short period of time with extensive community coverage. It is currently spreading rapidly within our current world and is a silent enemy against our efforts to deliver effective health care to our communities. The rate at which this misinformation spreads and the rate at which it is believed by the populace quickly negate all accurate information supported by scientific evidence.
According to Statistics Canada, nearly all Canadians have been exposed to misinformation about Covid-19 online; only one in five checked the accuracy of this information, and almost half shared the data without knowing if it was accurate.
In a report by the Ontario Medical Association, six percent of Ontarians, primarily adults aged 55-64, spread COVID misinformation on social media. Medical misinformation has been associated with anti-lockdown sentiments, COVID-19 denial and vaccine hesitancy.
"Dr. Theresa Tam says all Canadians must play a role in not letting false facts destroy the collective effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus."
"Medical misinformation is a chronic problem."
Misinformation is salient, sneaky and subtle; yet its impact is severe, costly and painful. It promotes potent opposition to our public health measures against the spread of diseases. One example of this relates to medical information on the effectiveness of drugs, novel surgical procedures or remedies. Unfortunately, the change in behaviour that medical misinformation brings does have a significant impact on our disease prevention strategies.
Recently there has been misinformation about the risk of thrombosis with the AstraZeneca vaccine. While it is true that there is a risk of developing thrombosis with the vaccine, the accurate information is that the risk is relatively low like the risk of being hit by lightening, and certainly lower when compared to the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis in the general population. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and remain an essential strategy against the COVID pandemic. I strongly encourage everyone to read the information provided on the Saskatchewan Health Authority webpage, Vaccine Uptake Support for further details.
Physicians and other health care workers must pay attention to the spread of medical misinformation through the internet and social media networks. Irrespective of our various convictions and personal biases, medical misinformation remains a common enemy, and we must work together to mitigate its damaging effect on our health care delivery systems.
In situations where a practice is novel and there is not enough evidence, truth-telling and honesty should be the approach in information sharing. Physicians should tell the truth about the novelty of any medication, techniques or procedure and the lack or the availability of scientific evidence.
Medical misinformation can harm the patient and may also have significant public health implications. Our mandate is for public protection, and any member who puts the public at risk of harm will be subject to the rules that govern professional regulation.
I call on all physicians to be sensitive to the spreading of medical misinformation within our communities. As trusted professionals, we must provide accurate, factual and complete information to our patients through all means of communication, and irrespective of our personal convictions or biases, respect the sovereignty of their choices. We must stand united and act swiftly against this potent force directed against our public health.
Let us all understand the danger of misinformation and its potential to derail our efforts to promote the health of our communities. As a united force, let us work together and overcome the negative effect of medical misinformation. Let us correct this misinformation through every possible means. The earlier we expose and correct it, the better we can prevent its hold on our communities' belief systems and behavioural change that accompanies such beliefs.