Misinformation on social media isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. But the COVID-19 pandemic elevated the problem to a higher level, especially around public health and vaccination. It was enough to prompt the World Health Organization to characterize it as an “infodemic.”

While policymakers have called for stronger regulations on social media platforms and tech behemoths such as YouTube and Facebook have pledged to crack down on health-related misinformation, it remains a true public health scourge. And according to a new Sermo survey, more physicians have recognized the profound impact misinformation is having on the health of their patients.

“The pandemic marked the beginning of what many considered the first true social media infodemic,” where misinformation – a lot of it about health care – spread at unprecedented rates,” said Sermo CMO Erin Fitzgerald.

The survey found that 51% of physicians believe social media made it harder for them to treat patients during the pandemic. That has led 81% of them to conclude that medical schools should incorporate social media health training in their curriculums.

The notion of teaching social media literacy in schools has gained momentum as the use of platforms like Instagram and TikTok, particularly among young adults, has grown. For instance, in Florida, state Senator Danny Burgess introduced a bill that would include the teaching of social media literacy at schools.

Sermo’s survey affirmed that 79% of physicians would like to see social media health literacy taught in schools and even workplaces. They liken it to health-literacy efforts seen nearly every day, like signage in restaurant bathrooms around washing hands.

The urgency around social media health literacy is due to its impact on health outcomes, Fitzgerald said.

“If you’re misinformed, it could truly be a life or death situation to another person,” Fitzgerald explained.

More and more, physicians are confronted with patients who arrive with self-diagnoses from “Dr. Google,” Fitzgerald added. That’s why Fitzgerald believes the ultimate solution will need to be multi-dimensional. Physicians will need to embrace social media as a way to reach their patients, while the pharma and healthcare industries will need to improve communication around the credibility of health information sources.

“We have a lot of work to do as a global healthcare community and industry,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s a really big opportunity for pharma companies to run health awareness campaigns and disease state or treatment option campaigns that are done in collaboration with some of the larger health systems, in which both the larger health systems and the industry come together to provide patient education and support messaging.”