Skip to Main Content

Truth & Consequences: Spotting Misinformation

Truth & Consequences: Spotting Misinformation

Nurses do a lot of sifting through information, whether it’s about vaccines, treatments, or changing guidelines impacting patients, with the intent to focus on science-based recommendations. Being selective about what we trust is worth the extra time and effort. Georgia Reiner, MS, CPHRM, with Nurses Service Organization (NSO) offers tips to spot misinformation along with a caveat about liability, “The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) has stated that ‘nurses are professionally accountable for the information they provide to the public,’” cautions Reiner.

True or False: Tips for spotting misinformation online

Analyze both the content and the source. Does information seem dramatic or overblown? If something seems outrageous, it’s a good idea to verify with additional news sources.

Recognize opinion and news commentary. Use of sensationalistic language and lack of specific evidence can signal that the information represents a point of view rather than fact-based.

Check if an image, graph, figure or statistic is being represented correctly. They can easily be edited or taken out of context to mislead others.

Visit the “About” or “Contact Us” section of a source’s website to ensure that it is legitimate. Illegitimate sources won’t share any information about their mission, staff, physical location, or a way to contact the organization.

Read beyond the headline. Some sources – even reputable ones – will try to drive online engagement by presenting information that’s out of context in the headlines or even the first few lines of the story. Oftentimes, reading the entire article will provide a more nuanced understanding of the topic.

Try to identify the intent behind the post or information. Information can intentionally be distorted to advance an agenda, or to entice users to click on or share an article to help drive advertising revenue.

Engage in self-reflection. Evaluate how the information fits into your pre-existing beliefs. Confirmation bias leads people to seek out only information that supports their preexisting beliefs and not a balance.

What’s at Stake

And before you hit that comment button, consider the standards for nurses in the public eye. While nurses are not immune to influence from popular opinion, they are professionally and ethically responsible for what they share with the public – even on social media. Reiner reminds us, “Holding a nursing license means taking on the responsibility to uphold the standards of the profession and the principles of the ANA Code of Ethics for Nurses,” She continues, “When nurses use public forums and social media to disseminate misinformation about COVID-19 or other public health issues, it can be harmful to the public and the profession.”

Sound surprising? Reiner explains why. “Identifying themselves as a nurse and using nursing credentials to speak about health topics or medical information can be considered nursing practice, since the public views their nursing credentials as evidence of their knowledge and trustworthiness.”

Spreading misinformation can have consequences. Reiner notes that in December “the NCSBN made it clear that nurses who spread COVID misinformation online could be disciplined by their State Board of Nursing (SBON). Such discipline can result in a loss of license to practice, or the nurse being excluded from working for any providers or healthcare facilities who participate in state Medicaid programs, or federal healthcare programs such as Medicare. These sanctions can effectively end a nurse’s career.”

Digging Deeper

This doesn’t mean nurses should avoid the subject altogether. Psychiatric-mental health nurses are in a unique position to help. “These conversations can take a significant amount of time, but personalized, individual communication is one of the most effective strategies for countering misinformation,” Reiner states.

Try approaching individual using trusted interviewing techniques. Reiner explains, “Focus on the bigger issue and the person’s feelings about that issue, rather than the false claims they may support…acknowledge that finding credible information online is challenging and help them find sources for accurate information… (And) work to understand how the patient’s lived experiences may affect how they relate to the health care system or medical information.”

For those looking to learn how to ask questions that can improve patient outcomes, APNA’s Motivational Interviewing online course is available free to APNA members.