New Institute Seeks A Remedy for Medical Misinformation –

How often have you woken up with a mysterious ache or pain, and immediately turned to Dr. Google instead of getting in touch with your actual doctor? Internet searches are a common, quick way to get answers, but also a profound shift in how many of us now access medical information. 
While online medical information has the potential to make people more informed and health literate, it can also be harmful – as demonstrated by the rampant and ongoing spread of medical misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. How can medical messages do the most good while reducing the harmful side effects?
The Penn Medical Communication Research Institute (PMCRI) is a new collaboration between the Annenberg School for Communication and Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania aiming to find out how to reduce medical misinformation. Led by Anne R. Cappola, MD, ScM, a Professor of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, PMCRI is supporting research that helps determine how patients, especially those in vulnerable groups, can best access reliable, effective information. It also seeks strategies to boost trust in scientific research and healthcare providers – rather than search engine results – as primary sources of medical knowledge.
As director, Cappola brings comprehensive expertise as a clinician, investigator, and medical journal editor. Her role is to connect and support the many experts across Penn who have expertise in different facets of the problem, including researchers from the Annenberg School for Communication, Penn Nursing, the Perelman School of Medicine, and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
“Surprisingly little research has been performed to understand the flow of medical communication and how medical misinformation propagates,” Cappola says. 
PMCRI’s research is already underway, having awarded grants to five pilot projects:
Assessing Misinformation in Healthcare Advertising
The researchers will develop and test a tool designed to assess misinformation across various domains of health advertising — including implantable devices, supplements, hospitals/health systems, clinical service providers, insurance companies, and assistive devices.
Reducing Medical Bias Among Clinicians-in-Training
What are the effects of clinician peer networks on medical bias in a medical training center? The researchers will test whether altering the peer networks of resident clinicians can reduce race and gender biases in the trainees’ medical decision-making.
Increasing COVID-19 Vaccination Rates in Lower-Income Communities
The team will test four different “myth busting” messaging strategies related to vaccines and compare them to a control strategy, with the added aim of countering vaccine misinformation.
Communicating with Parents about COVID-19 Vaccines for Children
The investigators will develop vaccine messaging prototypes for pediatric providers and test the messages among parents of children under 12 through online panel services. 
Improving Diversity and Inclusion in Pediatric Clinical Research Trials
The team will assess the impact of showing Black parents the value of enrolling Black children in clinical trials. Their results will inform a larger study on trial enrollment among diverse groups who are underrepresented in pediatric clinical research.
“Our mission at the Annenberg School is to be at the vanguard of research that can make an impact on the world,” says John L. Jackson, Jr., Walter H. Annenberg Dean of the Annenberg School and Richard Perry University Professor. “We are thrilled that PMCRI is not only focused on one of the most critical issues of our day, but also providing a hub for researchers from across the University of Pennsylvania to share and augment their expertise.”
PMCRI will also collaborate with other institutes and centers across Penn, including the Leonard Davis Institute, the Institute for Biomedical Informatics, the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics, the Center for Health Care Innovation, the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, the Center for Digital Health, and the Center for Community Health Workers.
Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $8.9 billion enterprise.
The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report’s survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $496 million awarded in the 2020 fiscal year.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report—Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.
Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 44,000 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.
Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2020, Penn Medicine provided more than $563 million to benefit our community.
Sophie Kluthe
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