13.03.2019 change 13.03.2019

Experts: The amount of false health information on the Internet is growing

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There is more and more false and misleading information about health on the Internet, while the level of confidence in doctors is decreasing, specialists alarm.

According to the Polish Cardiac Society (Polskie Towarzystwo Kardiologiczne, PTK), an example is false information undermining the impact of too high cholesterol on the development of cardiovascular diseases that lead to heart attack and stroke.

"Dissemination of such claims is harmful. Such manipulation may convince some patients to stop or not start treatment that saves health and life" - warns Prof. Piotr Jankowski from the Polish Cardiac Society. The consequences may include earlier myocardial infarction or stroke.

According to the president of the Polish Cardiac Society Prof. Piotr Ponikowski, this kind of false information threatens the health of millions of Polish patients already struggling with diseases caused by atherosclerosis or at risk of their development.

National public health consultant and Chief Sanitary Inspector Dr. Jarosław Pinkas points out that a growing amount of false information about health is being spread online. As an example, he mentions opinions discouraging from preventive vaccination.

"The anti-vaccine movement has been largely generated by the Internet, which is an increasingly frequent source of information about health, especially among young people" - emphasizes the expert.

According to the Chief Sanitary Inspector, there is nothing wrong with using the Internet, the problem is the content we read and the conclusions we draw. "The Internet is currently a goldmine of information, also in the field of health, that often comes from unreliable sources, from users who are not experts in this field" - he points out.

He gives the example of dietary supplements. "According to data from the Institute of Media Monitoring, only in June 2017 there were about 3.6 thousand social media publications on dietary supplements, of which only a small percentage were publications posted by specialists" - he adds.

The expert admits that this coincides with a drop in confidence in doctors, who can devote less and less time to their patients. "59 percent Internet users go online to check the information obtained during a doctor`s visit" - he says, citing the 2016 Public Opinion Research Center report "Health and Treatment in Poland".

According to the report, the majority of patients do not change or abandon treatment ordered by the doctor under the influence of content found online. Only 17% respondents do that. But experts fear that this percentage will increase.

"This can be a valuable hint and encouragement for doctors to build trust among patients" - emphasises Dr. Pinkas.

The national public health consultant also warns against the so-called alternative medicine. "There is no alternative medicine, it is only quackery that can not be combined with reliable medical knowledge" - he adds.

According to Prof. Jankowski, we should not believe the claims that dietary supplements can replace a healthy diet and physical activity. The expert also warns against the opinions that you can consume products that raise blood cholesterol without consequences, as long as you use dietary supplements.

"The role of cholesterol in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis is undeniable. The risk of heart attack, stroke and premature death is closely linked to the cholesterol level in the blood. Blood cholesterol can be reduced by modifying the diet, regular physical activity, and if that turns out to be ineffective - through the use of drugs prescribed by a doctor" - emphasizes the expert. (PAP)

Author: Zbigniew Wojtasiński

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