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June 14, 2019

Employ Cybersecurity Techniques Against the Threat of Medical Misinformation

Author Affiliations
  • 1Duke Rubenstein Fellows Academy, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
  • 2Duke Forge, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina
  • 3Verily Life Sciences (Alphabet), South San Francisco, California
JAMA. 2019;322(3):207-208. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.6857

Although the sharing of misleading information is likely as old as humanity, an unfortunate concomitant of the current digital environment is the amplification and accelerated spread of medical misinformation.1,2 Growing distrust of medical professionals is causing some people to eschew drugs that have been proven effective, such as statins for hypercholesterolemia3 and chemotherapy for cancer.4 Communities marked by pockets of vaccine refusal have seen the re-emergence of diseases, such as measles,5 that had been virtually eliminated from the United States. A child who needlessly experiences disabilities caused by measles, an adult who dies after stopping a statin despite having high-risk coronary artery disease, and a patient with cancer who ceases chemotherapy in favor of a bogus alternative all are victims of misleading information that is being promulgated on social media and other internet platforms. Although some in the medical profession grasp the scope and severity of this threat and have appropriately sounded an alarm, health professionals, for the most part, professional societies, and relevant government entities have been slow to address this issue.6 Unless effective action is taken, significant numbers of unsuspecting individuals will experience poor outcomes from disease, incur financial harms, or may even die prematurely.

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    1 Comment for this article
    An Unfortunate Choice of Example
    Jerry Czarnecki, Ph. D in chemistry | Medical Journalist
    The use of statins as an example of an area which allegedly needs to be shielded from public discussion seems counterproductive. Statins, rather, exemplify mainstream medicine sticking to the doctrine conceived unscientifically, disproved as harmful by practice, fiercely and unfairly defended by the "Establishment".

    Two facts: (1) The link between cholesterol and mortality is weak at best, since for older people, high cholesterol concentration forecasts longevity, not high mortality;

    (2) Cholesterol is  a powerful damage-healing agent. Certainly, inside blood vessels that healing action adds to the deadly plaque-building, but it is the inflammation which created
    the need for cholesterol's healing assistance.

    This interpretation was substantiated and published many years ago, and the public justifiably sees some influence of the research-funding system, in the suspected suppression of the truth. Statins do require public scrutiny.

    Anti-vaccine idiocy, is a different story.