health care

Medical Misinformation: Merck Finds Disconnect Between Doctors, Patients

Is medical misinformation -- especially online and in social media -- increasing?

The answer depends on whether you ask consumers or doctors, which is what Merck Manuals, the medical information arm of the pharma giant, did in two recent surveys.

Fewer than half of consumers (44%) said the problem is worse now than in previous years, while almost all doctors (98%) said that yes, the issue is worsening.

Another large majority of doctors (93%) said more patients today than five years ago are visiting them with self-diagnoses garnered from online information or social media, but just 20% of consumers reported self-diagnosing themselves from such sources.

Just 50% of consumers (50%) said they’re completely forthcoming with their doctors about the sources they use for medical information.



Those sources include consumer health and medical websites, used by 47% of consumers, families and friends (32%) and social media (20%). But doctors or other health care providers as the main source of medical information were cited by 71% of respondents.

“The findings point to a need throughout the healthcare industry to elevate reputable and accurate medical information while giving patients and providers the space and resources to identify medical misinformation,” the editors of Merck Manuals said online. “It’s no easy task—anyone who’s Googled a symptom knows decoding those findings into actionable medical guidance is easier said than done.”

"The challenge for patients and their doctors is that there is so much health information online and on social media, but it can be difficult to know which sources are credible,” added Dr. Sandy Falk, M.D., Merck Manuals editor-in-chief. “Doctors often point patients towards resources that they know are reliable.”

Merck Manuals said it has developed a method known as STANDS that consumers can use to evaluate online medical resources:

  • “Source: Does the resource cite recognized authorities and provide their credentials?
  • Transparency: Is it open and obvious whether the site's mission is educational or commercial?
  • Accessibility: Is the site available without registration, and is there a way for users to contact someone with questions or concerns?
  • Neutrality: Is the information available purely as a resource, or does the site benefit financially from what its users do (such as buying products or visiting advertised websites)?
  • Documentation: Is the site updated when needed by recognized medical experts?
  • Security: Can users access content without forfeiting personal information?”

The consumer survey of 2,044 U.S. adults was conducted for Merck Manuals by The Harris Poll.

The doctor survey was conducted of 263 physicians by Merck Manuals at the Family Medical Experience conference.

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