As a clinician, you’re accustomed to fielding patients’ questions and managing skepticism over various treatments. In some cases, a patient’s hunger for information is a positive sign that they’re invested in their health and will be dedicated to their prescribed care plan. But, when patients have the wrong information, it can lead to noncompliance or full-on refusal of care.
Over the past few years, social media has become a breeding ground for dangerous medical misinformation. Most recently, falsities and deceptive statements have threatened progress toward containing the global pandemic and even slowed vaccination momentum. In other words, misinformation is proving deadly.
To help cull these inaccuracies and ensure people connect with the treatments and preventive measures they need, here are a few tips for managing your misinformed patients.
Start with Empathy and Understanding
As a medical professional, it’s easy to become frustrated by the inaccurate and, likely, incomplete information threatening your ability to help patients — but it’s also crucial you understand why people believe false reports in the first place.
If a patient is misinformed, work to temper your frustration by remembering most people are trying to do what they believe is best for themselves and their families. They want to avoid doing anything they believe may be harmful or dangerous. By coming from a place of empathy and understanding, you’re more likely to earn their trust and overcome even deeply ingrained misinformation.
Even without the information overload of a 24-hour news cycle during a pandemic, living in the age of online learning can be overwhelming for many people. One of the main takeaways from a previous blog, discussed how providing a patient with information from credible and reliable healthcare resources while maintaining an open dialogue with them can be beneficial in the fight against medical misinformation.
Stay Aware of the Deceptive Content Spreading Online and Prepare Logical and Evidence-Based Speaking Points
Rather than allowing yourself to be blindsided by yet another bogus claim, it’s a good idea to stay mindful of inaccuracies making the rounds on social media. Check platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to learn what people are saying and sharing that could be damaging to medical progress.
Understanding the arguments or alternative methods that online posts or forums are making (or even sometimes selling) can give you, the medical professional, a better chance to prepare logical explanations and credible information for patients who are inquisitive or concerned.
If you feel comfortable, you may even consider posting information from credible sources on your personal and public accounts. As a clinician, most people will see you as a definitive expert and may be more willing to believe what you share over someone without a medical background.
In many cases, people believe misinformation because the truth is highly complex and outside their understanding of medicine and science. A good, straightforward, evidence-based explanation can go a long way toward overcoming those inaccuracies.
Focus on Building and Maintaining Rapport
The best thing you can do in the face of rampant misinformation is to remain a highly accessible beacon of truth. Arguing with patients or becoming angry and defensive when they refuse treatments or preventive measures due to medical misinformation will almost always do more harm than good. Again, focusing on sharing resources where they can learn more on their own, and reminding them you are available should they have questions or change their mind. Remaining non-judgmental and leaving the door open to continuing the conversation may help bring people back.
“The groundwork is establishing rapport with patients,” says John Robert Bautista, RN, MPH, PhD, and a Bullard Research Fellow in the School of Information at The University of Texas at Austin, in an article for Health eCareers. “The more that the patient feels comfortable and can be open with the healthcare provider, the more likely that they will accept information that may be contrary to their own beliefs—in the face of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias.”
In an era where anyone can publish anything to thousands (or millions) of people at once, fighting misinformation can sometimes feel like an impossible task. But as you know well in this line of work, sometimes all it takes is one person to make a difference.