HealthSeptember 09, 2021

Taking steps to combat the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’

In the initial deluge of cases of novel coronavirus, healthcare professionals around the globe were focused on patients, understanding how to treat them, and managing resources in a frightening pandemic. Now, they face a different sort of public health crisis — an “infodemic” of misinformation about Covid-19.

In an article for HIStalk, Denise Basow, MD, CEO of the Clinical Effectiveness business of Wolters Kluwer, Health, called the Covid-19 infodemic a “primary concern for global health,” noting that the proliferation of misinformation about coronavirus, its causes, and its treatments was not only affecting patients, but providers and other healthcare professionals as well.

Dr. Basow cited the WHO’s definition of an infodemic as: “too much information, including false or misleading information in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak, which can cause confusion and risk-taking behaviors that can harm health; it can also lead to mistrust in health authorities, undermining the public health response.”

That is exactly what we are seeing, Dr. Basow explained, noting that the number of studies published on Covid-19 has exploded from 50 in January 2020 to an estimated 400,000 today. Much of this increase in information includes “gray literature” that must be sorted from those evidence-based studies that can contribute meaningfully to best practices of care, she said.

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Four steps to surviving the infodemic

In the HIStalk article, Dr. Basow advises healthcare professionals to work with their patients to combat the type of misinformation that leads to an infodemic. She suggests the following steps:

  1. Listen: Pay attention to specific questions and concerns being expressed in your patient and clinician communities.
  2. Share resources: Communicate scientifically vetted facts and evidence so your clinicians and patients can effectively evaluate evidence — especially when it comes to important public health measures like vaccines.
  3. Foster understanding: Build resilience to misinformation by teaching your communities about how the Internet spreads good and bad information and how to spot the difference.
  4. Empower action: Arm your communities with tools and educational materials to help them distinguish fact from fiction.

“Everyone should have access to evidence-based information that informs their decisions, and technology should help facilitate, not hinder, that access,” Dr. Basow writes. “We can and we must learn from the Covid-19 infodemic to improve future public health response.”

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