Ethics

How health care myths can hurt patients

False beliefs are those at odds with established bodies of evidence, and many health care myths originate from personal experience and material found on the web. While information is widely available online, access to this information does not equal access to more knowledge. False beliefs can be held by both physicians and patients, but in the context of health care they deserve clinical and ethical attention because they can cause harm.

The November issue of the AMA Journal of Ethics® (@JournalofEthics) explores false beliefs, their implications and how perspective plays a role. 

Articles include:

How Should Clinicians Engage With Online Health Information? Many adults, physicians and medical students search the internet for health information. Open access has many benefits, but the variable quality of internet health information—ranging from evidence based to outright false—raises ethical concerns.

Using Wikipedia as a case study, this article argues that everyone engaging with internet health information has ethical responsibilities. Those hosting and writing for health websites should ensure that information is evidence-based, accurate, up to date, and readable, and should also be transparent about conflicts of interest.

Should Crowdsourced, Unvetted Content on Wikipedia Be Used in Health Sciences Teaching and Learning? Internet technology makes information from both peer-reviewed sources and crowdsourced content, such as Wikipedia, instantly accessible. Health sciences education must adapt by providing learners with the skills needed to effectively and appropriately access and use information.

In this article, a conceptual framework is introduced for teaching and learning using crowdsourced content. The authors aim to show how educators can help learners critically assess information quality, acquire knowledge and make clinical decisions.

How Should Clinicians Address a Parent’s False Belief Generated by Denial or Grief About How to Care Well for a Child? Parents of children with complex health needs are often both vigilant and knowledgeable about their child’s disease state. That said, sometimes parents’ hyper focus on specific information, combined with their strong emotional attachment, can result in both false beliefs regarding their child’s capacities and generate disagreements with clinicians about what is and is not clinically indicated.

This article examines ethical and professional responsibilities clinicians should consider when working with parents who hold false beliefs about their children with complex health needs.

Should a Physician Offer Recommendations Based on Experience but Contrary to Current Practice Guidelines?” There are times when a physician can justifiably make a recommendation to a patient that contravenes a current clinical guideline. When making such a recommendation, this article suggests, the physician should communicate a rationale for deviating from clinical guidelines and respect a patient’s autonomy.

The article also considers the need for, and limitations of, clinical guidelines, numerous factors influencing shared decision-making, and key ethical principles.

Listen and learn

In the journal’s November podcast, experts discuss why it is important for physicians to respond to health care-related false beliefs and how they can do so effectively. This episode’s guests are:

  • Jennifer McCormick, PhD, a member of the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s program leadership and the American Society of Human Genetics’ Social Issues Committee.
  • Albert Ko, MD, chair of epidemiology and microbial diseases at Yale School of Public Health. An infectious disease physician and epidemiologist, Dr. Ko has worked in Brazil for the past 25 years, where he investigated the Zika virus.
  • Diane Griffin, MD, PhD, a professor in the department of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Listen to previous episodes of the podcast, “Ethics Talk,” or subscribe in iTunes or other services.

Submit manuscripts and artwork

The journal’s editorial focus is on commentaries and articles that offer practical advice and insights for medical students and physicians. Submit a manuscript for publication. The journal also invites original photographs, graphics, cartoons, drawings and paintings that explore the ethical dimensions of health or health care.

A look ahead

Upcoming issues of the AMA Journal of Ethics will focus on physicians’ power to name and health care for undocumented immigrants. Sign up to receive email alerts when new issues are published.