Online health seekers beware

More than 25 million people will use the internet to search for health information. Estimates vary regarding the number of medically related sites on the web, but they number at least 100 000. Only about half of these sites have their content reviewed by doctors. The biggest problem with obtaining health information from the internet is that it is not always easy to decide what is reliable.

Ultimately, medical misinformation contributed to increased deaths in the U.S. due to non-vaccinations, fewer medical facility visits, wrong medical advice, and more. (Source: Good Rx)

Nearly three-quarters of participants reported seeing or hearing inaccurate medical or health information at some point. Another 16% weren’t sure if they’d encountered medical misinformation — which likely means they struggled to discern which information was accurate.

At a time when Twitter is becoming a cesspool of hate speech, medical misinformation is most commonly seen on social media. 82% of those who reported seeing misinformation said they saw it on social media.

The spread of health-related misinformation in a health emergency is accelerated by easy access to online content, especially on smartphones. During crises such as infectious disease outbreaks and disasters, the overproduction of data from multiple sources, the quality of the information, and the speed at which new information is disseminated create social and health-related impacts.

Because misinformation is so prevalent, having the skills to parse fact from fiction is essential in a global pandemic. But according to our research, 44% of people — almost half of the U.S. — reported that they weren’t confident in being able to tell whether medical information was accurate.

Biotech and pharma companies are also spreading misinformation. On LinkedIn, many health stories based on preliminary studies have no basis for whether they will ever become an FDA-approved treatment.

Good Rx found that 87% of participants were concerned (19%) or intensely concerned (68%) about the spread of medical misinformation online.

So it’s up to online health seekers to determine whether health information is accurate or inaccurate. Pharma sites do contain good news, but they are not written at a level that most can understand, and it doesn’t talk to health seekers as people.

Recently it was suggested that the FDA be broken up to become more efficient. I have been a strong supporter of having a division of the FDA review and approve online health information by request and allow the content creators to say the FDA approved this information.

With doctor appointments getting harder and physicians needing to see more patients to make ends meet, more people will continue to go online for health information. Pharma has a great opportunity, but they will be asked to prove the ROI. Until then, it’s patients beware.