Misinformation and public distrust of health care professionals are a daily hazard affecting the health of millions of people. So what can health care professionals do about it?
A new study shows 37% of millennials, or those ages 25 to 34 years old, do not trust their health care providers. The age groups from 35 to 54 years old show 34% distrust their health care providers. At 65 and older, the oldest population segment has the least amount of mistrust at 22%.
As millennials will become the predominant utilizer of the health care system in the future, it is critical that they can trust providers more and perhaps rely less on online medical information that could be incorrect. This has created one of the biggest challenges to establishing the traditional trust in a patient-physician relationship.
A recent study shows more than 44% of millennials have a chronic health condition. Other data demonstrate many millennials face chronic depression, substance abuse disorders, hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol. The most common medical conditions millennials sought care for included migraine headaches, major depression, and asthma.
The high prevalence of medical misinformation available for all ages has led to a greater push to educate the public. The U.S. Surgeon General declared public health misinformation an “urgent threat to public health” in October 2021. The U.S. Surgeon General developed a patient toolkit to guide individuals on how to assess accurate online medical information.
It is critical to address how to improve avenues of reliable data and health care messaging for best health outcomes.
A recent study from Harmony Healthcare IT indicates that 69% of its millennial respondents searched online for health and medical advice instead of going to the doctor. In addition, 25% of these respondents reported they had also trusted online information to diagnose their symptoms accurately.
Pew Research shows that most medical information millennials researched online was to inquire about a family member’s medical condition or themselves. This can come at a dangerous health risk as over 70% of people have been exposed to medical or health-related misinformation.
Millennials are often characterized as wanting immediate information to make decisions and relying on online platforms. Having higher rates of physical fitness and nutritional habits, they also value a holistic approach to health. All these positive values can create overconfidence in self-diagnosis and treatment via online medical advice.
While 82% of Boomers have a primary care physician, many millennials lack primary care physicians. A recent Journal of The American Medical Association study found improved health outcomes in patients who had a primary health care physician.
While information is instantaneous and accessible for those with internet access, the problem with online medical information is the rapid exchange and spread of information that may not be credible, which leads to further confusion. In addition, patients may misdiagnose their medical issue, request unnecessary tests or delay treatment.
The COVID pandemic highlighted the frequency and dangers of online medical advice. Studies examining the impact of social media and medical information found a high prevalence of inaccurate information. According to a recent Morning Consult report, 50% of millennials say they trust influencers to give good advice on brands and content.
As a board-certified cardiac anesthesiologist, I understand that physicians have the knowledge needed to diagnose and treat medical conditions and online sources do not replace the 12-14 years of medical school and residency. But physicians can do more to address medical misinformation.
Appealing to the needs of millennials’ value for immediate information and accessibility can be improved through offering physician websites or social media accounts with reliable medical information. In addition, expansion in telehealth medicine, increasing flexibility of online appointments, or scheduling office hour visits more easily may create new trusting relationships with patients.
It is imperative that everyone, not just millennials, is extremely cautious of relying on unvetted online medical information. Misinformation is dangerous. Trust is a critical element in patient care and can lead to better health outcomes.
Lisa P. Solomon is a cardiac anesthesiologist.
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