Medical misinformation has plagued the healthcare industry since patients first began receiving care from doctors centuries ago, and has only grown in severity over the years. This dynamic was supercharged over the past few decades by the rise of mass media as well as the arrival of the internet and the social media age.

Toss in a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that eroded public trust in institutions, and medical misinformation has never been more prevalent and tangible as a threat facing patients, providers and healthcare brands alike.

Hoping to push back against this troubling trend, Dr. Geeta Nayyar, the former chief medical officer of AT&T and Salesforce, set out to correct the record and offer best practices for physicians to combat it. She offers a prescription of sorts in her first book, Dead Wrong: Diagnosing and Treating Healthcare’s Misinformation Illness, which was published last month.

The release of Dead Wrong marks the latest evolution for Nayyar, who began her career as a rheumatologist. She then served as a healthcare-focused executive at non-traditional industry players before embarking as a respected thought leader.

Speaking at the MM+M Media Summit last week, Nayyar said that the book’s promotional tour, which has taken her around the world, has been tiring but thrilling. She added that the book’s warm reception among HCPs has inspired her.

“I did not anticipate the global reach and it’s been humbling to see this is a human conversation,” she said. “We all lived through the spread of medical disinformation during COVID-19 and we will continue to live through it since disinformation is timeless in healthcare.”

Nayyar said the idea for the book emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, she saw parallels with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which impacted many of the patients she treated as a doctor in training in the Washington, D.C. area. The significant numbers of preventable deaths were fueled, she believes, by myths and stigmatization related to the underlying disease. 

Despite advancements in research and drug development, Nayyar noted a shortcoming in communication about the safety and efficacy of medicines. “I wanted to write this book in a way that is relatable and reachable, which is actually the disconnect in healthcare and medicine today,” she explained. “We’re able to develop cutting-edge therapeutics and then no one takes them because we have not spent enough time innovating around the relatable and reachable piece of it.”

Nayyar suggested that healthcare organizations task one of their leaders with oversight of their disinformation strategies. While companies have people in charge of patient engagement, EHR optimization and brand loyalty, there’s generally no misinformation czar — and misinformation affects those roles and many others.

Healthcare is a services business, Nayyar noted. If patients don’t feel like they are heard or have reliable access to these care options, they may be more inclined to listen to dubious voices on TV or social media.

“If you are a provider, a pharma company, a payer or a medtech, the person in charge of patient engagement needs to be looking at medical misinformation — because if your job is patient engagement, patients are going somewhere else,” she said. 

Additionally, more relatable and considerate outreach could help mend the doctor/patient relationships that deteriorated over the course of the pandemic.

Looking ahead, Nayyar said another book could be in the offing but that she is most interested in utilizing her platform to tackle clinical problems facing patients and improve their outcomes.

Her main piece of advice to HCPs? Lean into media opportunities that can impact the healthcare narrative and continue the fight against misinformation.

“If you’re not in the media, if you don’t have a digital presence, if you’re not reaching people where they’re at, they’re not hearing your message,” Nayyar said.