AMA calls for action to tackle health misinformation on internet, social media

14 Jan 2021

The AMA has called on the Australian Government to invest in long-term, robust online advertising to counter health misinformation on the internet, including on social media channels.  

Releasing the AMA Position Statement on Health Literacy, AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said the plethora of information online about health and wellbeing is confusing for many people, who have difficulty determining which sources of information are reliable. 

“Health literacy is critical to people making informed choices about their health and health care and living longer, healthier lives,” Dr Khorshid said. 

Dr Khorshid highlighted that many groups in our community with lower levels of health literacy—people with lower levels of education, from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people who are unemployed, people with disability, and people with lower socio-economic status—are increasingly seeking information from websites and social media. As such, making reliable health information easily available online has positive effects on people’s health literacy. 

A study by St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne found that 77 per cent of patients had searched for their symptoms online before attending the hospital, as they found it easier to communicate with and understand doctors and nurses and were able to ask more informed questions. 

But the internet has the potential to significantly magnify health misinformation campaigns, as people can easily absorb misinformation delivered directly to them through advertising, celebrity influencers, and people in positions of power. 

“We have seen this with the anti-vaccination movement, and the countless conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic that circulate constantly on the internet,” Dr Khorshid said. 

“The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) does its best to crack down on fraudulent claims about items of clothing or glorified lava lamps being able to repel COVID-19, but more action is needed.” 

The AMA is also calling on all State and Territory Governments to collaborate with the Australian Government to extend the current Health Direct website to provide a single, accessible, national source of verified health information. The Victorian and Queensland Governments currently do not contribute any funding to Health Direct. 

The AMA Position Statement on Health Literacy is available here

Read the full media release here.