Rapid systematic review – Health information seeking by patients and the public relevant to COVID-19.


The coronavirus pandemic originated in China has taken millions of human lives. At the same time, the global pandemic has caused a tremendous burden to the healthcare systems worldwide. In addition, patients and the public have also been bombarded with information that has caused an ‘infodemic’. The objective of this study was to synthesize the evidence regarding the health information-seeking practices of patients and the public in terms of content and sources, as well as to identify the relationship between misinformation and conspiracy theories related to COVID-19.


We have conducted a rapid systematic review. A comprehensive literature search was conducted in multiple databases, including Embase, EBM Reviews-Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials, Ovid MEDLINE, CINAHL, EBSCO, Sociological Abstracts, ERIC (ProQuest), LISA (ProQuest), Web of Science, and WHO. We have also performed a grey literature search. Descriptive statistics were used to synthesize data. Using IBM SPSS Statistics 26, frequencies and percentages were calculated to characterize data presented in graphs and tables. For classifying information sources and information content, we have established different criteria. For sub-group analysis, contents were also categorized based on six continents.


The review included 135 studies among 714 references. The search process and study selection overview are reported using the PRISMA guideline. The study designs for the included studies were cross-sectional, survey, qualitative, review, comparative, online market research, retrospective, observational, case study, empirical, cohort, systematic review, and mixed methods. Most of the studies, however, used cross-sectional and survey study designs. The population for the included studies represented more females with a bachelor’s or higher degree. For contents, studies discussed general information relevant to COVID-19 (35% studies), information source (35%), information-seeking behaviour (25%), misinformation or conspiracy theory (24%), knowledge, behaviour, or attitude (19%), health literacy (17%), trust in information sources (16%), and credibility (3%) of information related to COVID-19. To access information, patients and the public used numerous sources, including social media (76%), mass media (46%), academic or healthcare (29%), government (24%), instant messaging such as Skype, WhatsApp, Viber etc. (13%), and search engines such as Google at 12%. We have also identified a list of conspiracy theories such as: ‘#FilmYourHospital’, ‘Bill Gates created the virus to test 5G’, ‘COVID-19 was created in the laboratory’, and ‘The pharmaceutical industry created the coronavirus to increase sales of its drugs and vaccines’. The review has also identified a relationship between conspiracy theory, influencer, and information source. 


The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented information overload for patients and the public. They are struggling with a flood of information, including misinformation and disinformation. More efforts are needed by social media and public health policy makers to combat the spread of misinformation and disseminate evidence-based information to save more human lives. 

Daraz Lubna slides

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