Doctors say they're dealing with significantly more patients who resist their advice because of misinformation they read online

salarshani@businessinsider.com (Sarah Al-Arshani)
·3 min read
coronavirus hospital patient doctor intensive care icu covid
Co-director of the intensive care unit at CommonSpirit's Dignity Health California Hospital Medical Center, Dr. Zafia Anklesaria, 35, who is seven months pregnant, attends to a COVID-19 patient, Los Angeles, May 18, 2020.
  • Doctors say it's hard to get some patients to heed medical advice because they're convinced of misinformation about COVID-19 that they read online, The New York Times reported.

  • Some patients demanded their doctors prescribe them hydroxychloroquine, despite reputable evidence that the medicine is not effective for treating COVID-19 and has potentially dangerous side effects.

  • Others drank bleach because they believed it would be a cure.

  • Some waited until it was almost too late to seek medical help because they didn't believe the virus was a big deal.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

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Doctors have said they are struggling to get patients to adhere to some medical advice because they are convinced of misinformation they read online, The New York Times reported.

"This is no longer just an anecdotal observation that some individual doctors have made," Daniel Allington, a senior lecturer at King's College London told the Times. "This is a statistically significant pattern that we can observe in a large survey."

Allington is also a coauthor of a recent study that found people who got their news online were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories and not follow public health guidelines compared to those who got their news from radio or television.

Some patients have demanded prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine, a medication that the Food and Drug Administration revoked from emergency hospital use for COVID-19 in June after studies found it was not effective against the virus and had potentially dangerous side effects.

Last month, clips of a Breitbart video touting misinformation about the coronavirus and hydroxychloroquine quickly went viral on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and were retweeted by President Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr.

The Times reported that some people have gone to hospitals to demand doctor's notes so they don't have to wear a face mask because they believed online rumors that masks lower their oxygen levels.

Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency room physician in Kentucky, told The Times a number of patients waited until it was almost too late to benefit from treatment before going to the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms. The patients, according to Stanton, didn't believe the coronavirus was a "big deal."

"They thought it was just a ploy, a sham, a conspiracy," Stanton told The Times. "It just blew my mind that you can put these blinders on and ignore the facts."

Last week, a study from the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene found that at least 800 people died in the first three months of 2020 because of false information that claimed drinking bleach could cure coronavirus. Almost 6,000 people were also hospitalized because of that claim, Business Insider previously reported.

Parinda Warikarn, a doctor in New York, told The Times she saw a patient who ingested bleach because he thought it would prevent the virus.

"He clearly really believed that he was going to prevent Covid," she said. "Luckily, his wife and two young children didn't take this solution."

Dr. Howard Mell, an emergency room physician in Illinois told The Times that the wife of a patient who died from the novel coronavirus yelled at him for writing COVID-19 on the man's death certificate and accused him of doing it for profit.

"She yelled, 'We've seen online how you guys get more money,'" Mell said.

Mell told The Times he deals with several patients each week who strongly believe false information they read online.

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