Building Trust with Patients to Overcome Misinformation | AHIP 2024


Geeta Nayyar, M.D., a rheumatologist and author, discusses how misinformation and disinformation is eroding the trust between doctors and patients, and how healthcare organizations can be part of the solution.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a crack in the people’s trust in public health and healthcare organizations. Health authority efforts to curb the spread of the novel virus, including masking and the use of vaccines, was often undermined by the spread of often incorrect medical information. And led to at least 232,000 preventable deaths.

Medical misinformation and disinformation — incorrect information that is deliberately spread — is not new, but today’s social media environment makes it that much harder to reach patients.

Geeta Nayyar, M.D.

Geeta Nayyar, M.D.

Healthcare organizations have to be part of the effort to reach patients; they have a responsibility to effect change in the area of misinformation, Geeta Nayyar, M.D., said in an interview with Managed Healthcare Executive before the annual AHIP meeting in Las Vegas.

Nayyar is a rheumatologist who earned her medical degree from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and her MBA from at The George Washington University School of Business. Nayyar was part of a panel discussion about restoring trust in healthcare.

In an interview ahead of the meeting, Nayyar spoke about her new book, Dead Wrong: Diagnosing and Treating Healthcare’s Misinformation Illness. She first experienced the impact of misinformation as a medical intern working with patients with HIV and AIDS in the early 2000s. Some of patients at that time were dying from AIDS because they misunderstood how HIV was transmitted.

Today, Nayyer said, social media and the Internet have led to a dangerous situation where patients no longer trust health officials to provide them with the right information. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Nayyar said she watched as misinformation and disinformation about the new virus, its treatments and vaccines spread on social media.

Nayyer said all stakeholders in healthcare have to come together to rebuild patients’ trust in the healthcare system. She is optimistic that technology can be used to better the doctor-patient relationship and provide accurate information to patients. This, she said, can save money and save lives.

Q: What do you want people to take away from your book Dead Wrong?

A: People literally lost their life during the pandemic. People literally lose their lives every day in America from being misinformed. There are people are who profiting off of our patients. And they are getting to patients before doctors.

Healthcare has been slow to move. Healthcare has 25 priorities. Dealing with misinformation is not one of them. In a world where every health system, every payer, every life-sciences company is talking about the patient experience, none of them are talking about misinformation and disinformation that consumers see.

We’ve accepted the environment we’re in. We’ve accepted that our patients are going to look everywhere, but to us. The reality is that this costs us money. It leads to bad outcomes.

The book is really meant to be a call to action to say that we should no longer accept this as the status quo. Healthcare organizations should lead in addressing misinformation by embracing marketing, technology, clinical medicine, and social media. Healthcare organizations need to be the de facto and trusted place for patients to look for health information. I very much mean for this to be an inspiring book that says, healthcare can lead on this.

Q: What led you to write Dead Wrong?

A: Misinformation and disinformation are not new. This has been around since the Black Plague. What’s new about it — we saw this primarily highlighted during the pandemic — is it is getting worse because of technology. Because of social media, because of all the things we can do with an algorithm, misinformation and disinformation is now spreading six times faster than the facts.

Instead have to flip that and use the algorithms, use the science, use the marketing to promote the facts and make the patient physician relationship better and stronger and more trusted.

Q: How can healthcare organization lead and address consumer misinformation?

A: There has to be trust. But to build trust, first patients have to know us. In today’s world, if you don’t have a digital footprint with a website and social media — where everyone is looking now for healthcare information — you don’t exist. To reach the masses, health organizations have to be likeable, and that means representing the communities in which they provide healthcare. And we have to show up for patients, to the best of our ability. We fall down on access. Some patients can’t get a doctor’s appointment for six to nine months.

Health plans are in a great place for building trust with patients. They have bigger budgets and more technology, as well as a lot of data that their providers don’t have. They can use an intelligent personalization approach to meet patients where they are. They have an opportunity to empower the patient-physician relationship, focus on prevention, and raise health literacy.

Payers spend a lot of money on marketing, but it is general marketing. There needs to be personalization around that marketing in an intelligent way. This is where AI can help. Technology can be an enabler. I remain optimistic about artificial intelligence and the things that can be done. But it is about the implementation. We are living in a really exciting time of transformation in healthcare. But we got to get it right. There needs to be a patient-engagement strategy that addresses healthcare misinformation.

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