Coronavirus Misinformation Strains Doctor-Patient Relationships

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Misinformation about coronavirus is an issue when patients bring it to the doctor’s office.

The motive is not to disagree, but to find comfort — but it can cause friction.

“Some of the things that they do when they’re hoping for the best is that they’re looking for news articles, and they’re looking for information that defends their position, or justifies what they’re thinking,” says Allegheny Health Network primary care internist Dr. Brian Lamb.

For instance, some patients demand certain medications, such as hydroxychloroquine, even though the numbers don’t support its use. Or they want a doctor’s excuse to not wear a mask.

“We actually do have people who come in wanting excuses. We have people who actually say they have a doctor’s excuse to not wear a mask, and I have to remind them, I am their doctor, and I’m requiring them to wear a mask in the office,” Dr. Lamb says.

In Connecticut, a doctor’s note is now required to go without a mask in public.

“Laws like that are really setting doctors up to either give in to what a patient wants, knowing that it’s not the correct thing medically to do, or you have to take a stand, and unfortunately it ruins — can ruin — the relationship between a doctor and the patient,” says Dr. Lamb.

Some people wait too long to seek medical care, because they believe COVID-19 is not a big deal, or that the hospital is a dangerous place.

“People are very afraid to go to the hospital, afraid to see their doctor, and unfortunately, we are seeing some bad outcomes from it,” Dr. Lamb says.

And in some cases, surviving family members have argued with doctors for writing COVID-19 on the death certificate, because they believe some sort of kickback is involved.

“People say doctors are inflating the number of deaths, inflating the number of illnesses, because they think there is some kind of conspiracy,” Dr. Lamb says.

Researchers in the UK looked at these issues with surveys of almost 2,500 people. They found the more people got their information from social media, the less likely they were to have health protective behaviors, such as social distancing and hand washing — but they were more likely to if they got their information from broadcast media.

“When you’re dealing with broadcast media, there are standards,” says Dr, Lamb, “When all of your information comes from an internet source, so much of that isn’t verified.”

Dr. Lamb points out fear and caution can be healthy, but you can overdo it.

He has actually had to recommend to some of his patients to decrease how much they view social media and the internet, something he calls “doom scrolling,” where everything they read is scary and paralyzing.