Sat | Sep 18, 2021

Letter of the Day | Beware of COVID-19 misinformation

Published:Thursday | September 9, 2021 | 12:06 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

Home care during COVID-19, monitoring your oxygen, should be done only on consultation with your doctor in all cases. Blanket recommendations of oxygen readings of 60 per cent can be extremely dangerous, and even fatal.

It must be difficult for traditional media to navigate the massive amounts of information presented daily, from a plethora of sources, on various aspects of COVID 19. Every day represents another need to create content to fill the available airwaves and pages, whether virtual or real. This enormous pressure must be borne by the editors, who are tasked with filtering the information presented by their staff, and freelance journalists, into a coherent narrative representing the events of the day in a way that is interesting enough to catch the attention of the audience. There are so many options nowadays.

It must also be difficult for the public to open themselves to every avenue to information and be tasked with deciding how much time to spend on any bit of what is available, and in what format.

Even before COVID-19, it was difficult to know who to trust with information related to all things medical. What is fact versus opinion? What is helpful versus harmful? Who is the authority on what topic, and why? As many of us know, in the medical field it is as much art as it is science. Not everything is black-and-white. In fact, few things are. Facts of yesteryear are relegated to the realm of hocus-pocus and often don’t stand up to evidence when examined fully. Entire courses are dedicated to evaluation of medical data and drawing conclusions; and even within the field, there are many disagreements between experienced scientists looking at the same thing.

It should come at no surprise then to see a plethora of articles, interviews and social media posts representing almost every variation of thought on anything to do with COVID-19. You can always find someone to champion something if you open yourself to the full gamut of media.

It is therefore important for those tasked with the Hippocratic Oath of old to first, do no harm in using the knowledge acquired through years of training to make recommendations to the public on things which are beneficial to their health. We cannot afford to be cavalier with facts, lest we end up causing harm to others through our actions. Even where doubt exists as to the efficacy of an intervention, it should not be said that a recommendation made is predictably harmful. Whether we are discussing the use of home oxygen or drugs for therapy of COVID-19, we must always continue to be mindful of the effect of our words on those who look to us for guidance in matters of health.

We ask the media to also be mindful of their impact on the discourse of the nation, and the ability to influence hearts and minds with powerful effect. More care should be taken to try and present items in a balanced way. Trust is at a deficit generally, and the traditional media would continue to best serve its society by being as close to accurate and far from harmful as possible, especially in the reporting of medical stories. The Association of Consultant Physicians of Jamaica and others stand ready to offer help to the editors of any major media house, not in vetting a story, but in helping to ensure that first, no harm is done.

DR MIKE MILLS

President

Association of Consultant Physicians of Jamaica