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Using Digital Health to Fight Healthcare Misinformation

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   December 20, 2022

Researchers at the University of Illinois and OSF HealthCar are working on a digital health app that would enable providers to better combat false rumors and malicious reports that hinder public health efforts. 

Researchers at the University of Illinois are working on a digital health app that would alert providers to healthcare misinformation circulating on social media.

Kevin Leicht, PhD, a sociology professor at UI, and Mary Stapel, MD, community care lead physician for OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center and assistant program director for the combined Internal Medicine-Pediatrics Residency at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria (UICOMP), are using a $100,000 grant to develop the resource, which would give users real-time alerts about rumors and malicious reports that impact public health efforts.

"What our project actually does is take not only the pre-existing fact-checked data and query it all in one place, it brings it forward in a user-friendly fashion," Leicht said in a press release from OSF Healthcare. "But then it's also trying to come up with a way of adding to this data in a way that's faster than having a human fact checker just scan the web all the time, looking for what the new piece of misinformation is." 

Leicht, the science team lead at the Chicago-based Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), and Stapel are using a grant from OSF Healthcare's Jump ARCHES (Applied Research for Community Health through Engineering and Simulation) program, and building on past work, supported by the National Science Foundation, to identify the spread of misinformation about COVID-19 and other debunked medical research.

"If we can even get ahead of that – know what information is circulating and start feeding out more accurate information ahead of time through our community partners; that really could be a game changer when we're thinking about things like pandemics and infectious disease," Stapel said in the press release.

Stapel said the app would help healthcare workers, especially those in community health, to better inform patients and gain their trust at a time when public healthcare workers are struggling against false information that affects their credibility.

"Having humans curate that a little bit … you have content experts that look at that and say, 'Is this dangerous or is it not? Is this trending, is it not?' And then figuring out a way to deliver that to the final customer in a way that requires as little inner interface by them as we can possibly get away with," she added.

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.


Researchers at the University of Illinois and OSF HealthCare have received a $100,000 grant to continue research supported by the National Science Foundation targeting misinformation that was spread during the pandemic.

The new effort aims to develop a digital health app that identifies misinformation and helps providers, expecially those in public health, combat it with accurate data.

Misinformation not only affects public health programs such as vaccinations, but damages the repution of healthcare providers and sows distrust in the healthcare industry.

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