In a survey from the healthcare information company, Wolters Kluwer Health, 53% of physicians said one of the most common challenges in physician-patient communication is a misinformed patient.

The vast majority of this misinformation comes from the Internet as “The Pew Research Centre”, an American Think Tank, reports. It was discovered that 78% of adults use the Internet – in which, out of these, 83% look up health information online.

In fact, in the survey of 300 American doctors, one in five said that this easier access "has been detrimental, leading to misinformation and incorrect self-diagnosis." “I’ve grown weary of “Internet, MD” and wish he was held back from graduating medical school,” joked Dr Micheal Gleiber, a spinal surgery specialist.

Explaining what happens if a woman Googles breast pain, he says, “because many search engine results are linked to algorithms set by (A) keyword entries typed by the consumer, and (B) advertisers’ willingness to bid on a keyword based on ‘cost per click,’ chances are “Breast Cancer” will populate the results on page 1!”

So, what can doctors do to help combat this problem?

One excellent way in which physicians and researchers, who are on the editorial board of the WikiJournal of Medicine, are helping, is by writing and updating Wikipedia articles. “We strongly believe that the medical community has a responsibility to keep this online encyclopedia up to date,” they said.

Each year people turn to Wikipedia for medical information 4.9 billion times and most of these people live in low-to-middle income countries with sparse access to this vital information. The best example of this was when the Ebola pandemic exploded in West Africa in 2014.

Wikipedia articles on Ebola were translated into more than 100 languages, viewed at least 89 million times that year and in the countries that were the worst affected by the disease, Wikipedia was the most used online resource. One reason for this is because of how easily accessible Wikipedia allows itself to be.

In the poorest countries, it is possible to access Wikipedia with free data. It is also estimated to be 1,500 times more cost-effective than more traditional ways of spreading information such as peer reviewed papers and presenting at academic conferences. This is also why it is so frequently used by doctors and medical students.

It is crucial for public health, which is why it is important that medical pages on the site are updated as often as medicine changes – which is rapidly.

Wikipedia is, but, the tip of the iceberg

YouTube is another form of media that has also been broadcasting misinformation. A study by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, an academic medical centre, in which researchers analysed the 100 most viewed videos on YouTube on inflammatory bowel disease, found the overall education quality was poor.

"Clinicians and their patients need to be aware of misleading information posted by patients or particularly by pharmaceutical companies who often post videos to make it seem like they are coming from a patient when in actuality it is a company advertisement," echoed researcher and internal medicine resident at the clinic, Saurabh Mukewar.

"YouTube is a powerful platform to deliver and receive healthcare information. But healthcare providers and professional societies need to provide more educational and efficient materials using this powerful tool to counteract misleading information," he added.

Too little incentive for busy members of the medical community to do it

One reason for this is that the praise and recognition that doctors receive is almost exclusively given only when novel results are published in high profile and peer-reviewed papers. One way in which to improve the situation would be to include the work professors do on combating misinformation into account when applications for tenure and grants are considered.

“It needs to be tied to the reputations of nurses, doctors, scientists, and other health professionals, just like conducting studies and writing high-profile publications,” the scientists on the WikiJournal of Medicine editorial board said. Ultimately though, it is also a moral obligation for medical personnel to dispel false health information as it is one way to save lives. MIMS

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