Healthcare consumers trust traditional news over social media

By Diana Manos
10:15 AM

A new poll shows most people trust health and medical research information provided by traditional news sources over social media and mobile devices.

According to a statewide survey, commissioned by Research!America, most Maryland residents trust the health and medical research information provided by traditional media – newspapers (77 percent), television (71 percent), magazines (68 percent), radio (66 percent) – and the Internet (66 percent).

Social media fared less well, with 51 percent saying social media is not trustworthy for health and medical research issues. Fewer than 20 percent use their cell phone or other mobile device to find health information.

[See also: Docs have an obligation to use social media.]

The findings were released Wednesday at a forum on science journalism at the National Press Club convened by Research!America, Pfizer Inc and the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, School of Public Health and School of Public Policy.

“The modern media landscape has become very complex, which creates many more opportunities to communicate with many more people of all ages and backgrounds,” said Kevin Klose, dean, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland. “At the same time, this presents a challenge in communicating about complex issues such as medical and health research findings.”

One such challenge is public trust in news sources and spokespeople. Marylanders largely trust journalists as spokespeople for science news (59 percent see them as trustworthy), but even more so, the state’s residents trust science news coming from scientists (88 percent), healthcare professionals (86 percent) and nonprofit and voluntary health organizations (75 percent).

[See also: Healthcare websites beat out social media as a health resource.]

A majority (62 percent) trust the scientific community as much today as they did five years ago. Slightly fewer (54 percent) trust the media as much now as five years ago. Just 27 percent trust elected officials as much now as five years ago; 63 percent say less.

Further findings from the Maryland poll include:

  • 34 percent cited obesity as the single most important health issue facing Americans today, followed by the cost of healthcare (17 percent);

  • 93 percent think it is important that elected officials at all levels listen to advice from scientists and public health professionals to address potential health threats;
  • 87 percent say it is important for Maryland to be a leader in science and medical research; and

  • 89 percent say it is important for Maryland to be a leader in public health, prevention and wellness research.

“Marylanders are right on target in identifying the key public health issues facing our state today, and they are well aware of the need for leadership in public health and prevention research,” said Robert S. Gold, dean, University of Maryland School of Public Health. “They also see as part of the solution that policy makers must be informed in order to address potential health threats and that we must provide training for Maryland residents and students in these critical areas.”

The survey was based on an online and phone survey of 804 adults in Maryland in April 2011. The sample is proportionate to the state’s demographics, including gender, age and ethnicity, researchers said.

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