COMMENTARY

'We Need to Be Louder' on Fake COVID Cures

Alok S. Patel, MD

Disclosures

October 01, 2020

Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

My evidence-based colleagues, we're in month 6 of this pandemic and month 6 of the pseudoscience infodemic that isn't going away.

Have you seen the recent analysis on COVID misinformation? There are now examples of misinformation in 87 countries, in 25 languages. It's perplexing. I feel like we've tried everything and we're constantly debunking mass myths.

We're talking about why these conspiracy theories about the virus origin are just not true, or we're denouncing fake treatments. We do it all, and then misinformation shows up once again, like in the form of the My Pillow guy touting oleandrin as a cure. Here we go again. It's like we're always playing catch-up.

The other day, I saw yet another interview with someone who thinks the entire pandemic is a hoax. There are more tweets from people who think the death rate is actually below 10,000 and yet another video of an anti-mask rally.

With misinformation come more illness and more deaths. It is so demoralizing when people accuse us of falsifying death certificates or taking money from Big Pharma.

So many doctors work long hours in COVID units and then come home to these angry rants or messages from naysayers on Facebook.

Speaking of Facebook, here's a quote from a recent New York Times article that nails it: "Doctors say patients regularly resist their counsel, more inclined to believe what they read on Facebook than what a medical professional tells them."

The average person comes across so many sources of information, from political rants to blog posts to reports on non–peer-reviewed medical studies. It's hard for people to tell fact from fiction. People are frustrated, scared, and they simply want answers.

This is what set the stage over the past 6 months for people to continuously spread conspiracy theories or try to sell fake treatments like coronavirus-fighting toothpaste, which was shut down by the FDA, by the way — good riddance. Sadly, this is what has also led some people to drink bleach or hoard hydroxychloroquine.

Now, there are plenty of articles out there that teach the average person how to identify misinformation. They give people tips on how to recognize quality data or validated sources, or ways to spot red flags in the form of political biases, poor grammar, or special interests.

Knowing what we all know now, what are some ways for us — healthcare professionals — to proactively fight misinformation?

Here are a few ideas. Healthcare professionals need more opportunities to work as consultants or fact-checkers for journalists. I hope hospitals are more encouraging about media training or opportunities to work with public relations. Doctors and nurses need to be able to get their stories out there.

Tech companies like Google Health, Facebook, and YouTube need physicians' input. YouTube says it removed 200,000 videos with COVID-19 misinformation. Yet, one totally dangerous video like that from America's frontline providers can still show up and get millions of views and cause many problems. There has to be a way to flag dangerous content faster.

I also think there's a place for all of us on social media to share information and get ahead of the curve. Even if you don't want to write and post content, connect with someone who does, like the hospital or a friend, and get scientific truth out there.

Correct people online, argue with politicians, share data, report irresponsible content, pitch your own articles, or do anything. We need to be louder than every internet charlatan out there. We have no choice.

Share some more ideas. What are things you're all doing to proactively kick misinformation in the teeth? I want to hear from everyone, because regardless of your specialty or where you're at in your training, there is a way for all of us to get involved in this fight.

If you think it's futile and a waste of time, tell us why. We want to hear from everyone. Keep up the good fight. Comment below.

Alok S. Patel, MD, is a pediatric hospitalist, television producer, media contributor, and digital health enthusiast. He splits his time between New York City and San Francisco as he is on faculty at both Columbia University/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital and the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children's Hospital. Alok hosts The Hospitalist Retort video blog on Medscape.

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