Developing an app to alert healthcare professionals to misinformation on social media

Jump ARCHES grant offers $100,000 towards research and development

PEORIA, sick. and URBANA, Il., December 16, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — University of Illinois Professor of Sociology Kevin Light, PhD, recalls a time during the COVID-19 pandemic when someone insisted during a conversation that only six people had died from the highly contagious and rapidly circulating virus. It was clear that disinformation was leading people to doubt the potentially deadly nature of the virus.

But even before the pandemic, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) had begun investigating the spread of medical misinformation. Leicht, who is also the scientific team leader at Chicago-based Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), is co-leading the work, funded by DPI and more than $100,000 Jump ARCHES newly awarded grant to develop a software application for healthcare professionals to receive real-time notifications of social media misinformation. The project builds on misinformation research and previous efforts funded by the National Science Foundation and Jump ARCHES to identify the spread of misinformation about COVID-19 and other debunked medical research.

Jump ARCHES (Applied Research for Community Health Through Engineering and Simulation) funds joint research and development projects twice a year as part of an academic incubator with the University of Illinois and this latest project was under almost $1.8 million in grants for 16 projects.

Leicht says he and other researchers were a little surprised that there wasn’t a more robust and commercially available software platform to identify medical and health misinformation. But Leicht says he often reminds his teammates that research and development are usually more difficult than you might think.

“If it were easy, someone would have done it by now,” he says, laughing. “We were both surprised that nobody tried to do it. And then when we got involved. ‘Wow, it’s really difficult.’”

Leicht points out that social media platforms don’t want to be in the business of content identification and moderation because it’s so complex and, as in the case of Twitter, is also seen as suppressing freedom of expression.

Currently, healthcare providers are limited in their ability to answer patient questions or address misinformation by browsing fact-checking sites such as or Leicht and his colleagues use natural language processing, machine learning, data mining, specific information filters, and retrieval methods that augment and automate efforts to identify inaccurate health information trending on social media.

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“What our project actually does is not just take the fact-checked data we already have and query everything in one place, it pushes it forward in a user-friendly way. But then it also tries to find a way to add to that data in a way that’s faster than having a human fact-checker constantly scan the internet looking for new misinformation.

According to Leicht, computer science and data expertise are combined with the knowledge of social scientists on how cultural and political fragmentation affects the spread of misinformation and how effective communication can become an anecdote.

co-investigator Mary StackMD, is the senior community care physician at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center and associate program director for the combined internal medicine and pediatrics residency at University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria (UICOMP). dr Stapel says an innovative software application could make a significant difference, especially when alerts are readily available in software programs that clinicians use every day.

Many community health workers and digitally-enabled medical workers would also find the real-time misinformation alerts helpful. These individuals work to build trust, particularly with those who have experienced trauma or inequality in their experience of the healthcare system in the past. dr Stapel says community-based organizations also engage in “confidence transfers” when they invite healthcare professionals to educate their clients and work together to identify the source of misinformation and take public action to address it.

stop virus spread

The alerts could allow organizations to prevent bad information from going viral.

“If we can even get ahead of the curve – knowing what information is out there and distributing more accurate information about our community partners ahead of time; this could really be a game changer when we think about things like pandemics and infectious diseases. ”
DR Mary Stack by OSF HealthCare & University of Illinois university of medicine, Peoria

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At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Dr. Stapel learned that the problem of medical misinformation affects everyone, regardless of their level of education or other socioeconomic factors.

“There was an interesting turn during the pandemic when, post-education, large-scale campaigns and initiatives were launched around vaccination; there was actually kind of a turn in that communities of color, lower socioeconomic communities, got vaccinated more than upper class, predominantly white communities, so I really think it’s across the spectrum.

Leicht says that misinformation challenges many computer science and information mining techniques because it changes quickly and spreads between languages ​​and countries. It also requires human interpretation of the content, which is identified and categorized by artificial intelligence.

“If people let that be curated a little bit… do you have content experts looking at that and saying, ‘Is that dangerous or not? It’s trending, isn’t it?’ And then find a way to deliver that to the end customer in a way that requires as few internal interfaces from them as we can.”

Leicht estimates that it will take two years to complete the software application. Researchers believe there is demand for what they create. You already have an industrial, non-profit software development partner, Meedan Labs, which creates open-source tools for creating and sharing context on digital media through review, annotation, archiving, and translation services. The Discovery Partners Institute will also be involved in making the product commercially available not only to healthcare providers but eventually to patients through electronic medical portals such as OSF MyChart.

Additional assets for this release including photos, logos, video/audio clips are available on OSF Newsroom.

OSF Health is an integrated healthcare system owned and operated by the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis headquartered in Peoria, Illinois. OSF HealthCare employs nearly 24,000 mission partners in 150 locations, including 15 hospitals – 10 acute care hospitals, five with critical access – with 2,089 licensed beds and two nursing schools Illinois and Michigan. OSF HealthCare’s physician network employs more than 1,500 primary care providers, specialist physicians and advanced practices. OSF HealthCare operates an extensive network of home healthcare and hospice services through OSF Home Care Services. It also owns Pointcore, Inc., consisting of healthcare-related businesses; OSF HealthCare Foundation, the organization’s philanthropic arm; and OSF Ventures, which provides investment capital to promising innovative healthcare startups. More at

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Jump trading simulation and education centerpart of OSF Innovation, is a collaboration between University of Illinois university of medicine, Peoria and OSF HealthCare. Jump replicates a variety of patient care settings to ensure novice and experienced clinicians can practice handling medical situations in a real-world setting. At six floors and 168,000 square meters, the center is one of the largest of its kind and offers space for conferences, anatomical training, virtual reality and innovation. Visit for more information.

Jump ARCHES Partners:

The Health Care Engineering Systems Center of the Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne (UIUC) focuses on connecting UIUC researchers with medical providers to create projects applicable to healthcare through interdisciplinary research. A big part of HCESC’s mission is collaboration: their partnership with the Jump Simulation Center in Urbana provides training on the latest mannequin-based simulators and virtual reality tools to meet the needs of medical and allied health organizations in Central Illinois. Their Jump ARCHES partnership with OSF HealthCare in Peoria offers researchers and clinicians of all disciplines direct access and competitive grants to collaborate and solve healthcare problems.
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University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria (UICOMP) trains 244 medical students and almost 300 resident doctors every year. The College of Medicine hosts the Cancer Research Center, the Center for Outcomes Research and collaborates on the Jump Simulation. Learn more about UICOMP at

Contact: Colleen Reynolds| Media Relations Coordinator – OSF HealthCare | (309) 825-7255