Peer Review: Combating Misinformation

Leading spine specialists weigh in on how to how to help educate the un- or misinformed

Welcome to another edition of Peer Review. Have you ever wished you could pick the brains of some of the best and brightest spine specialists in the world? Us too. That’s why we created Peer Review. Every month we ask a question that pertains to your practice, and our Editorial Board members share their thoughts.

Covid combating minsinformationCombating misinformation is a challenge for any clinician.COVID-19 pandemic challenges: Hmm, where to start?  

Let's leave aside the most obvious, tragic and maddening issues: The deaths, the overwhelmed emergency rooms, the uneven government responses, the politicization of the pandemic. Instead we'll focus on a problem that may be less immediate deadly, but still frustrating and often dangerous. 

Six months after it was declared the pandemic remains very startk, very real and very much still present. With it, it seems like more and more people are trotting out their medical degrees from University of Facebook and their consultations with Dr. Google. 

Although spine specialists may be slightly more insulated from directly treating COVID-19 than other specialties, it's still a dominant force in healthcare. SpineUniverse reached out to two Editorial Board members: Theresa Marko, DPT and Lali Sekhon, MD, PhD. Whether it's about COVID or something else, we wanted to know: 

How do spine specialists combat misinformation? How do you deal with know-it-all or misinformed patients? What strategies do you use to help educate these patients and help them take care of themselves? What advice do you have for colleagues struggling with this issue?

"I think it's important to make the patient feel 'heard' or they will not hear what you have to say in response to the misinformation they have just stated. I also think it's important to not say, 'that's incorrect' or 'no, you're wrong.' This only puts the patient on defense and creates a you vs me scenario," says Dr. Marko.

"The goal is to make the patient feel you and they are on the same team, not opposing teams," she continues. "In order to do this, I would listen to what the patient has said and then try to use redirection to discuss what's actually true. I would try to educate them on anatomy and function and quote what the research says. Using research to back up what you are saying as a provider helps the patient to see you as the expert. Lastly, remember that we are trying to create patient-centered care, and not the old model of doctors as the expert telling the patient what to do."

Dr. Marko says, "While, yes, doctors have expertise, and we should share our knowledge with the patient, shared decision making will create greater satisfaction and outcomes with that patient."

"Ive gotten into Twitter arguments about masks and vaccination with the well-meaning but uninformed," says Dr. Sekhon. He shares his four simple tips for avoiding flame wars online:

  1. Try and avoid social media for delicate or political topics
  2. If you have a valid opinion and it is sourced, give it once
  3. Avoid a true/false dialogue
  4. Avoid saying anything derogatory or hurtful

Spine specialist? We want to hear from you. How do you combat misinformation online or in the exam room? Send your responses to And, if you have any burning questions you want to ask the SpineUniverse Editorial Board, send them to that address. Your question may be featured in an upcoming Peer Review!


Updated on: 09/14/20
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