Common Misconceptions in Health

Finding and sharing health and medical information has never been easier in human history. However, much of the material on the Internet and shared on social media is incorrect and sometimes harmful.

As more people turn to the internet for health information, it will be more necessary for medical researchers and practitioners to identify effective ways to direct the public away from misconceptions and pseudoscience and toward evidence-based content.

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What can science and medicine do to combat the spread of false health information? Unfortunately, adding additional facts to the problem is not the solution. The growing contempt for evidence in society, according to those who research it, is more a question of human psychology than scientific literacy.

People tend to cling to long-held health misconceptions despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Many social media users shun sources of information that contradict their opinions, preferring to hang out with people who share their viewpoints.

Misconceptions about disease and biomedical in younger children

Younger children (early primary school) talked about disease and health more often than older children in terms of behavioral characteristics (play, go outside, be cheerful), rather than symptoms; younger children also emphasized (mis)behavior and treatment as signs of illness.

Even for non-contagious disorders like allergies, the most prevalent causative mechanism stated at this age was contagion (‘you caught a disease from someone else you played with'). Older primary and secondary school students (and their teachers) tended to become more informed about microbial sickness symptoms, treatment, and transmission routes for respiratory ailments.

Students from fifth grade to college and university, and novice teachers, participated in studies on biological and systems knowledge. In a study including a group of medical experts (as the reference group), large gaps were discovered in children's and teachers' understanding of immune system responses, vaccines, treatments (including the functions of antibiotics and the mechanisms of pain medication), and the transmission of non-respiratory microbial illness.

Misconceptions about dealing with patients

Practical experience is incorporated early in most medical training programs. Despite this, the initial years are dominated by the acquisition of (bio)medical knowledge and the socialization of students into biomedical model thinking.

Often, there is a disconnect between theoretical training and practical practice for students. In their junior clerkships, they expressed difficulty applying theoretical knowledge in clinical practice, as well as perceived deficiencies in basic science understanding, while interns reported several knowledge gaps involving patient care.

Another myth is about the complexity of patients and the involvement of non-medical elements in disease, diagnosis, and treatment.

Misconceptions about palliative care

Patients' concern is caused by a lack of understanding and misconceptions, which have been recognized as barriers to palliative care use. Many people mistakenly believe that palliative care is the same as hospice or that it is only used at the end of life.

These myths may also impact providers, who have expressed concern that referring patients to palliative care will cause them to lose hope or lead them to assume their practitioner has given up on them. Despite recent increases in palliative care services, it is still underutilized. According to a survey, only 28.8% of US adults are aware of palliative care, and only 12.6% of people know what palliative care is and have no misconceptions about it.

Females, those with a college education, those with a higher income, those who have a primary health care provider, and those who are caregivers are more likely to know about palliative care.

Misconceptions about palliative care were frequent among those who knew about it: 44.4% instinctively think of death, 38.0 % associate palliative care with hospice, 17.8% feel you must cease other treatments, and 15.9% see palliative care as giving up.

Misconceptions about mental health

The media, the general public, and politicians frequently highlight that mental illness is both a cause and a precursor of violence, emphasizing a presumed link between mental illness, such as psychopathy and psychosis, and the use of guns to perpetrate violence.

Only a few significant mental health illnesses, such as schizophrenia (especially with command hallucinations) and bipolar disorder, have been consistently associated with aggression, according to research. As a result, the majority of serious mental health issues do not raise the likelihood of violence.

Also, research repeatedly shows that substance abuse is a strong predictor of violence and that it often significantly mitigates the direct link between schizophrenia and violence. In short, there is no evidence that mental health issues are independent predictors of violence when other factors like substance use or previous violence are taken into account.

According to the experts surveyed for this study, the link between mental illness and violence (particularly gun violence) is weak, and it is considerably less when substance use is considered. According to scientific studies, people with mental illnesses are only responsible for a small percentage of all violent crimes. This indicates that the vast majority of all violence is perpetrated by people who have never had a mental disorder.

To assist internet (and non-internet) users in finding reliable health information, public health institutions must strengthen their social media presence. On a clinical level, clinicians trying to persuade patients to abandon potentially damaging health myths and beliefs will need to be patient.

People are unlikely to change their minds about long-held convictions overnight, especially if it involves leaving online networks that have become a significant part of their life. Assisting patients in living healthier lifestyles entails guiding them in obtaining more accurate health information.

References:

  • Collier R. (2018). Containing health myths in the age of viral misinformation. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne, 190(19), E578. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.180543
  • Ahonen, L., Loeber, R., & Brent, D. A. (2019). The Association Between Serious Mental Health Problems and Violence: Some Common Assumptions and Misconceptions. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 20(5), 613–625. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838017726423
  • Boshuizen, H.P., & Marambe, K.N. (2020). Misconceptions in medicine, their origin, and development in education and working life. International Journal of Educational Research, 100, 101536.
  • Flieger, S.P., Chui, K. & Koch-Weser, S. (2020). Lack of Awareness and Common Misconceptions About Palliative Care Among Adults: Insights from a National Survey. J GEN INTERN MED 35, 2059–2064. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-020-05730-4

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jun 28, 2022

Emily Henderson

Written by

Emily Henderson

During her time at AZoNetwork, Emily has interviewed over 300 leading experts in all areas of science and healthcare including the World Health Organization and the United Nations. She loves being at the forefront of exciting new research and sharing science stories with thought leaders all over the world.

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