Health misinformation online abounds

SUMMARY: In a 2019 Pew Research Center poll, more Americans said they consider made-up news a bigger problem than terrorism, illegal immigration, racism, and sexism. And 68% said disinformation greatly impacts people’s confidence in government institutions. No matter the form, inaccurate health information is a danger to public health.

While psychological factors leave people unguarded against misinformation, people in the U.S. are particularly vulnerable to health misinformation because the literacy rate in the country is low. Roughly 45 million American adults (out of about 200 million) cannot read above a fifth-grade level, according to the Literacy Project Foundation. Yet, health information materials tend to be written and communicated at 10th to 12th grade reading levels.

According to STAT News “the spread of information — and misinformation — has been playing a crucial role throughout the unfolding coronavirus outbreak and should serve as a wake-up call for scientists who model epidemics. With every outbreak of a new pathogen comes a race to estimate its transmissibility, which scientists, the media, and the public use to compare the new threat to known enemies”.

What pharma DTC marketers should know is that the spread of health misinformation effects drug companies as well even as they try to earn back the trust of a skeptical public.

Pfizer’s ad in newspapers yesterday was a good start to trying to earn back trust but unfortunately the misinformation about vaccine candidates is already starting to gather momentum.

Earning trust is not done through one act or with one product; it’s done through a consistent emphasis on transparency. Gilead’s attempt to game the system that’s desperate for COVID-19 treatments seems to have backfired but not before they made a substantial profit. Of course, the media is jumping on the WHO’s recommendation to eliminate Gilead’s product from COVID treatments.

Pharma has two problems when it come to online health information:

1ne: The information is often too hard to understand for online health seekers.

2wo: Pharma websites are seen as a sales tool rather than a patient tool.

Pharma marketers are too often lulled into a false sense of success when looking at raw traffic numbers. Still, bounce rates, time on site, and page view all tell another story, which is why online health seekers often have to go to several websites to get their questions answered.

Pharma companies have a major opportunity to earn back the trust of a skeptical public but it’s going to take a consistent effort.