Fighting the Spread of Dangerous Misinformation During the COVID-19 Pandemic

April 3, 2020
Josh Weiner, CEO, Solutionreach

How providers can stop the spread of dangerous information during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Josh Weiner, CEO, Solutionreach

What an intense, challenging time we are experiencing. Hospitals and healthcare systems are being tested in ways that we never expected. Amidst the pressing concerns of providing supplies, counting hospital beds, protecting staff, and other critical needs, 1 key weapon in this battle can easily be overlooked—educating patients. Patients are being absolutely bombarded with information from every source imaginable. As is apt to happen with any major news story, much of this information is simply wrong—and in some cases, dangerously wrong.

For example, multiple stories falsely claiming that coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) “hates the sun” and can be prevented by regularly taking a few sips of warm water, have been widely circulated and shared.

There are absurd claims that some races are not susceptible to the virus and won’t get sick. Or that if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds without pain, you don’t have the virus. And while healthcare professionals may shake their heads at such tales, studies show that nearly everyone is susceptible to believing misinformation if presented in the right way. Unfortunately, when people read—and trust—misinformation like this, they may not take real preventive measures seriously. Believing they are already safe, they are less likely to follow social distancing recommendations or even wash their hands.

Providing accurate, timely messaging is critical to stopping this kind of harmful content from spreading. As a healthcare provider, 1 of your most important roles during this pandemic is being a “point person” for patients to look to for information they can trust. Right now, providing key education to keep patients safe and healthy is nearly as critical as the in-person care you provide each day.

Send Information Often

Here are some simple steps you should consider implementing to stop the spread of dangerous information.We are experiencing a truly organic situation. Things are changing on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Something that may have been true a week ago might no longer be accurate. Even our understanding of the virus is constantly evolving. As new guidelines, suggestions, or options become available in your specialty, it is imperative that this information is communicated to patients.

Respond to Common Misconceptions

Customize Messages Based on Patient Types

By setting up a regular communication cadence with your patients, you are able to keep them in the loop. This may mean that you are sending emails as often as weekly, depending on where you are located, your patient base, and specialty area. Fortunately, much of this communication can be automated so it does not create a huge burden on staff. If new information arises that you need to share, you can adjust what you are sending accordingly.The more people share rumors and misinformation, the more fear and frenzy it causes. You can directly combat this by addressing misinformation head-on. Don’t be afraid to send out an email assuring patients that something they’ve read online is simply not true. And each time you send an informational email, it is a good idea to remind patients of where they can find accurate and trustworthy information.COVID-19 is definitely not a one-size-fits-all virus, and it requires a response that is as unique as each case. There are a variety of factors that play into the information you should be sending to each patient. If you are serving largely high-risk patients, for example, you may want to create communication that addresses their unique needs. You can send specific advice to those who work in essential industries and are not able to follow regular social distancing recommendations on how to keep themselves and their families as safe as possible.

Get Personal

Depending on the communication tools you have at your disposal, you may be able to identify specific groups based on common traits. If you don’t have enough information, feel free to survey your patients and ask. Find out what questions and concerns your patients are facing. There are resources and information from the CDC you can leverage for these communications or look to your specialty medical association for additional guidance.While mass communication is important during this time, you may want to consider more personal check-ins with certain patients, especially those at high risk or who are very isolated and without support. Again, surveys are a great way to identify these patients. Consider asking patients if they live alone, have family support, have a way to get their medications, access to a grocery service, etc. This can help you identify patients who may need to be checked on in a more personal manner. You can then send these patients a personal email, text, or phone call to make sure all is well. Provide those patients with additional information about community support services being offered to help the most at risk.

During this chaotic time, it might be easy to let your patient communication fall by the wayside. But the truth is, this is actually 1 of the most critical times to keep those channels open. By sharing the latest and most accurate information with patients, you can help prevent cases from occurring or spreading more than they should.

Josh Weiner is the CEO of Solutionreach.

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