In this era of misinformation, we have a moral responsibility as physician-citizens to write for media outlets that our patients read. Sharing accurate health information with the general public can inform decision-making and improve health.
It was a forty-minute drive to a small town in Alabama, with a population of 3,686. I made that drive every Wednesday afternoon during my first year of medical school to volunteer at a hypertension screening clinic called “Sowing Seeds of Hope.” There, I met a local farmer who was sent to the clinic by his church’s health awareness program. As I placed the blood pressure cuff around his arm, his eyes squinted and eyebrows ruffled with skepticism. His blood pressure was high, but his lack of symptoms made him question the diagnosis and the necessity for treatment. Influenced by recent misinformation on the local news, he was resistant to the idea of taking any medication. I felt I had failed my patient as he left our clinic without acceptance of his diagnosis. But I learned the importance of writing for popular media outlets so that our patients get accurate information.
Over the past few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact that popular media has on health literacy has become clearer than ever. I reached out to CNN, NPR, Fox 5 DC, and HuffPost, to share evidence-based information and dispel myths. I also shared my own experiences through an op-ed with USA Today.
In this era of misinformation, we have a moral responsibility as physician-citizens to write for media outlets that our patients read. We must not limit ourselves to writing for academic journals.We must actively reach out to popular media outlets to share accurate health information with the general public.
How do we achieve this? As Dr. David Hellman, chief of medicine at Johns Hopkins Bayview, said recently during grand rounds, “It takes both a shift in culture and policy to make a change.” We’re starting to see a culture shift in which physicians are becoming more engaged with popular media. But this must be coupled with policy changes that better prepare physicians to write for the general public. We need to design a curriculum that trains medical students and residents in patient advocacy and writing in lay terms. However, we cannot let our lack of training in writing for the general public discourage us. We cannot depend on others to share accurate health information with our patients via media outlets—we must do it ourselves.