How did the endorsement of unproven treatments by high-profile figures impact individuals’ treatment decision-making?

Internet Searches for Purchasing Hydroxychloroquine (Liu, M. et al. 2020)

Bottom Line:

Medication endorsement by non-expert, high-profile figures may impact people’s treatment decisions. Even with an absence of evidence regarding treatment effectiveness, Google searches for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine were significantly higher than expected between March 16 and March 29, during which time both Elon Musk and U.S. President Donald Trump endorsed these treatments.

Reference:

Liu, M. et al. Internet Searches for Unproven COVID-19 Therapies in the United States. JAMA Internal Medicine (2020). https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.1764

Date Published:

29 April 2020

Synopsis:

This study examined the Google search patterns of individuals between February 1, 2020 and March 29, 2020 regarding chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine treatments. The authors assessed potential decision-making by only examining Google searches where the terms: “buy, order, Amazon, eBay, or Walmart” were included in combination with the treatment names. Key dates were chosen based on when the endorsements of these treatments were given by high-profile individuals, namely Elon Musk and U.S. President Donald Trump. Searches for purchasing chloroquine were 442% higher than expected following these endorsements, while searches for purchasing hydroxychloroquine were 1389% higher than expected. Of note, these search patterns were still significantly higher than expected after reports on March 22 announced a fatal poisoning directly caused by chloroquine-related poisoning. While this study does not show a definitive causal relationship between high-profile endorsement and treatment decisions, it does suggest that people may be very receptive to the endorsements of celebrities and other public figures, regardless of treatment evidence or expertise of the endorser. Public health initiatives must combat this misinformation to avoid inappropriate medication usage and safety risks.

Summary by: Jennifer Gutberg