The ripple effect of health misinformation can be dangerous: Dr Debayan Dutta

Last Updated on July 26, 2023 by Shabnam Sengupta

Dr Debayan Dutta, MBBS, DM (Neurology), MD (Internal Medicine) is a Neurologist. He specialises in Parkinson’s disease, movement disorders, epilepsy, and neuroimmunological diseases. Currently, he serves as an Associate Consultant in Neurology at Apollo Multi-speciality Hospital, Kolkata. In this interview, Dr Debayan Dutta discusses about health misinformation prevalent about various neurological diseases.

When a patient explains to you about their health problems, what are the most common mistakes they make in their communication?

The most common mistake a patient makes is presuming a diagnosis in their mind and then going to their doctor. A good patient not only listens to their doctor but also asks relevant questions instead of disobeying or doubting their doctor. In my practice, I have seen so many people listening to neighbourhood medicine shopkeepers and denying their doctors. This neither helps the patients nor the doctors.

What does health literacy mean to you, and why is it important in patient care?

Health literacy means how people understand information about healthcare and how they apply it to address their personal and community health issues. It is multifaceted and layered starting with you and your ability to understand your bodily symptoms. It is also about understanding what your doctor says. Health literacy also means having a basic understanding of the short and long-term implications of the disease.

If a patient is knowledgeable about the basics of their health condition, how helpful is it for the overall treatment procedure?

When a patient is well informed about the treatment procedure, it significantly aids in their care, instils a sense of reassurance, and boosts my confidence in providing them with treatment.

How much can medical misinformation impact treatment procedures?

Medical misinformation negatively impacts the doctor-patient relationship. It can lower the confidence between patients and their doctors.

What are the most common myths or misinformation you see your patients falling prey to?

Several common misconceptions need to be addressed. Epilepsy is often wrongly believed to be contagious or caused by food or stress. Additionally, there is a misconception that individuals with epilepsy cannot lead a normal life. Another fallacy is that Parkinson’s disease is solely caused by poor diet. Furthermore, having a family history of any disease is erroneously seen as a social stigma. It is also important to note that all surgeries carry risks. Contrary to popular belief, a neurological problem does not necessarily exclude the presence of other systemic disorders. Lastly, it is inaccurate to assume that all side effects mentioned on the internet have a high likelihood of occurring.

What is your most common advice to patients to stay away from health misinformation online?

I advise my patients to be careful about the health-related information that they receive from unreliable sources. I also ask them to refrain from spreading such information further. In an era of widespread misinformation, it is crucial to verify the credibility of the sources we encounter.

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