1. COVID-19 case studies offer insights into what it will take to combat misleading medical information online
Health care leaders ‘take a shot’ at addressing viral medical rumors and disinformation
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A team of medical and public health leaders from the American Board of Internal Medicine, ABIM Foundation, and several respected institutions say COVID-19 case studies, among other examples, can inspire new recommendations aimed at combatting viral medical rumors and false or misleading information online. According to lead author, Richard J. Baron, MD, ABIM President and CEO, this issue is particularly important considering the recent judicial opinion prohibiting the federal government from influencing social media companies. The analysis and recommendations are published in Annals of Internal Medicine.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Calif has called medical misinformation “the leading cause of preventable death in America” and Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has sounded the alarm, as well. At no time was this issue more obvious than during the COVID-19 pandemic. ThisIsOurShot and VacunateYa, or TIOS-VY, are linked national grassroots organizations that empower and support trusted medical professionals to share accurate health information on social media and combat misinformation with the goal of building healthier communities. The viral vaccine-selfie movement #ThisIsOurShot was one of their signature efforts. TIOS-VY built the organizational infrastructure to support medical professionals as they engaged and convened online communities. But despite their efforts, nearly 2 years into the pandemic, 78 percent of adults either still believed or were unsure of whether to believe at least 1 of 8 false statements about COVID-19 or COVID-19 vaccines.
TIOS-VY encountered several challenges that hampered its effectiveness online. These included limited funding, limited data about their digital audience, and online harassment and attacks aimed at public health communicators. Considering these challenges, the authors recommend the creation of a sustainably funded, independent public–private partnership to address the challenges faced by TIOS–VY. The authors argue that this structure will allow for sustainable, long-term funding, support for under-resourced stakeholders or members facing online harassment, flexibility in detecting and responding to rumors while protecting vulnerable personal data and could more effectively work with social media platforms to combat misinformation than existing information stakeholders. They believe a fully funded and coordinated response could have a meaningful effect on the nation’s health.
Media contacts: For an embargoed PDF, please contact Addison Dunlap at firstname.lastname@example.org. To speak with the corresponding author Richard J. Baron, MD, please contact John Held at JHeld@ABIM.ORG.
2. ACP Calls for Modernizing Public Health Infrastructure
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It is imperative to augment and enhance the public health infrastructure in the United States for it to achieve its mission of preventing illness and promoting health, says the American College of Physicians (ACP) in a new policy paper published in Annals of Internal Medicine. The new paper updates recommendations ACP made in 2012 for the U.S. public health infrastructure with new policies on establishing federal public health leadership, protecting public health workers, reversing workforce shortages, and the need to integrate primary care and public health.
ACP recommends that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) designate a new public-health official who would coordinate interagency work and be responsible for public health efforts. It recommends immediate action from Congress to provide sufficient and stable funding for public health at the federal, state, and local levels. The paper also calls for action to address the severe shortage of public health workers. The number of public health workers employed by state and local governments declined by 15 percent from 2011 to 2021, and a survey of state and local public health found that 27 percent of workers intend to leave their position within a year.
ACP’s paper calls for increased efforts to combat health-related dis- and misinformation, especially through social media platforms. The paper recommends the development of a national public health data system that would be capable of sharing real-time information back and forth between public health departments, physicians, hospitals, laboratories and others. Finally, ACP encourages collaboration between public health and primary care.
In an accompanying editorial also published in Annals, Sherri A. Berger, MSPH and Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH reflected on ACP’s paper from the perspective of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the piece they say the CDC, and their state and local public health partners, are heeding the call to take concrete action, and they further caution that the CDC cannot act alone, and, without funding, flexibility, and new authorities.
Media contacts: For an embargoed PDF, please contact Addison Dunlap at email@example.com. To speak with someone from ACP, please contact Jacquelyn Blaser at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also published in this issue:
Moving Naloxone Over the Counter is Necessary, but Not Sufficient
John C. Messinger, MD; Leo Beletsky, JD, MPH; Aaron S. Kesselheim, MD, JD, MPH; and Rachel E. Barenie, PharmD, JD, MPH
Medicine and Public Issues
Annals of Internal Medicine
Method of Research
Subject of Research
Addressing Viral Medical Rumors and False or Misleading Information