One of cardiology’s most prominent leaders has written a new commentary on how cardiologists can fight back against medical misinformation and disinformation. Patients should be able to trust their physicians and health systems, he wrote, but misinformation and disinformation can actively erase that trust—and once it is gone, there is a chance that it will never come back.
Edward T.A. Fry, MD, president of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and a veteran cardiologist with Ascension St. Vincent Heart Center in Indianapolis, shared the commentary in the ACC’s flagship journal, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The difference between misinformation and disinformation, Fry explained, is that misinformation is shared by people who mean no harm. Disinformation, on the other hand, is created and shared with “malicious intent.”
Misinformation and disinformation have both been significant issues for quite some time, but their impact has arguably never been greater than it is right now. What caused things to reach this point? Two of the biggest factors appear to be the rise of social media and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the first wave of COVID-19 leading to a global shutdown in March 2020, affecting all parts of daily life, including schools, the economy, transportation, sports and entertainment, and even family gatherings, there was a perfect storm for the creation and dissemination of medical misinformation and disinformation fueled by a combination of the daily deluge of ‘facts’ and an apocalyptic sense of doom resulting in a generalized sense of anxiety,” Fry wrote. “Social scientists cite a volume of information exceeding one’s ability to comprehend and the presence of anxiety as the two greatest risks of being susceptible to the effects of misinformation.”
Another important factor, he added, has been the way that fewer academic studies are going through a proper peer review process, and early study results are being shared online with little context. Hydroxychloroquine, for instance, was very briefly seen as a potential therapy for COVID-19 during the early stages of the pandemic. Later on, it was found to be harmful to patients, but it was too late—patients all over the United States were determined to take hydroxychloroquine, and some even believed the government was limiting treatments due to some sort of vast conspiracy.