Fake news and health: when disinformation turns deadly

25 January 2017 (Last Updated January 25th, 2017 10:16)

Fake news is infamous for the role it played in the politics of the post-truth era, with experts claiming it as the driving force behind events such as Brexit and the US presidential election.

Fake news and health: when disinformation turns deadly

Fake news is infamous for the role it played in the politics of the post-truth era, with experts claiming it as the driving force behind events such as Brexit and the US presidential election. News sites and social media are plagued with unverified stories aimed to manipulate the decisions of their consumers. Unfortunately, fake news has already made its way into the medical world and is set play a dangerous part throughout the healthcare industry.

Many fake medical news stories play upon consumer’s fears by providing misleading summaries of scientific studies. Often times these articles are misleading but relatively harmless, such as claiming that favorite foods like bacon or coffee are guaranteed to give you cancer. However, some of these articles aim to sow distrust between doctors and patients.

Unfortunately, many fake news stories are based on legitimate articles written with balanced perspectives and research, and twist them into inflammatory narratives

Many fake news articles misrepresent a study by the University of Washington by claiming that findings indicated a link between first trimester ultrasounds and autism, while failing to mention that the findings concern babies that were predisposed to autism already. Another common fake news piece warns patients that mammograms are likely unnecessary because of the large amounts of false positives that result from them. Unfortunately, many fake news stories are based on legitimate articles written with balanced perspectives and research, and twist them into inflammatory narratives.

The medical and global community already experienced the effects of fake news after a bogus study resulted in the Anti Vax movement and spike in once nearly-eradicated diseases such as measles. Fake news stories targeting diagnostic procedures like prenatal ultrasound or mammography endanger individuals and their families, but can also contribute to dangerous misinformation campaigns while further antagonizing the medical community. Radiology already faces government reimbursement challenges due to a strained US healthcare system, and a widespread fear of diagnostic procedures could hurt patients, physicians, and manufacturers alike.