Health care myths are a real problem

In this month’s Medical Care there’s a great study by Brendan Nyhan and colleagues:

Context: Misperceptions are a major problem in debates about health care reform and other controversial health issues.

Methods: We conducted an experiment to determine if more aggressive media fact-checking could correct the false belief that the Affordable Care Act would create “death panels.” Participants from an opt-in Internet panel were randomly assigned to either a control group in which they read an article on Sarah Palin’s claims about “death panels” or an intervention group in which the article also contained corrective information refuting Palin.

Findings: The correction reduced belief in death panels and strong opposition to the reform bill among those who view Palin unfavorably and those who view her favorably but have low political knowledge. However, it backfired among politically knowledgeable Palin supporters, who were more likely to believe in death panels and to strongly oppose reform if they received the correction.

Conclusions: These results underscore the difficulty of reducing misperceptions about health care reform among individuals with the motivation and sophistication to reject corrective information.

There’s also an accompanying editorial by yours truly. Here’s a taste:

Medical myths are common.6,7 But I have always believed that with the right information and the right coverage we could convince people that vaccines do not cause autism, that you really do not need 8 glasses of water a day, and that sugar does not really make kids hyperactive. Nyhan and colleague’s work has forced me to question that belief. For many, it is not going to be enough to present them with the correct “facts.” For many, often the best informed among us, such efforts may backfire.

Unfortunately, both are gated. If anyone comes across a legitimate link the the full articles, I’ll post them.


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