Doctors for truth: Fighting for trust in an era of misinformation

I read on social media that sea moss gel is supposed to cure coronavirus.  Do I still need to wear a mask?

It’s hard to imagine physicians being deceptive to patients about matters of life and death. Yet, the politicization of health care coverage, COVID-19, disparities in health outcomes, and women’s health rights has severely fractured the relationship between health officials and the American public. Prior to the pandemic, most health professionals were accustomed to vying with the recommendations of Drs. Twitter, Facebook, and Google.  Yet, amidst a national crisis, we have been challenged by a presidential administration that has often blatantly disregarded science, trusted experts, and the welfare of the country as a whole, fostering uncertainty in medicine.

So, if you’re honest:

Advise the patient to wear the mask, practice social distancing, and suggest saving sea moss for a skin mask.

But, if you’re wise:

Ask that patient, where did they find that information? If they believe it is credible?  Align yourself with the perspective of the patient and rebuild trust. Because unfortunately …

Figurative castration of America’s health experts has fostered fake news validation. 

The 1964 report written by Luther Terry that upended big tobacco and confirmed smoking caused lung cancer and the unadulterated truth spoken by C. Everett Koop to combat the stigmatization and spread of AIDS during the ‘80s have been suggested as the impetus to health expert censoring. Moreover, subsequent attempts by succeeding Surgeon Generals to inform the public on pertinent population health issues–including gun violence, teen sexual health, and ethnic disparities in healthcare outcomes–have also been silenced.  The national redaction of our voice over the years has diminished our credibility.

Now that we face another health crisis, we cannot allow the politicization of medicine to undermine the public’s trust in the integrity of the medical community, adding to the chaos of the pandemic and further endangering people’s lives.

Prior to the pandemic, a 2019 Pew Research Center survey reported 74 percent of Americans said they had a mostly positive view of medical doctors, a far higher rate than that of most other professions. Additionally, this survey found no significant partisan differences, making it an exception to the norm of political polarization. Those of us in the healthcare community have a privileged position in the minds of Americans. More than ever, people are looking to us for guidance, not just for their individual health, but also for the health of their communities and the country.

Therefore, it behooves us to reestablish this extraordinary degree of trust by correcting misinformation and denouncing those who deliberately spread it. By doing so, we are protecting the integrity of the medical community from political interference as well as keeping our patients informed and protected amidst these unprecedented times.

Rob Palmer is a medical student. Aaron Snyder is an emergency physician. Shantel Hebert-Magee is a pathologist and health policy strategist.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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