Dr. Sanjay Gupta joined University Chief Health Officer Dr. Preeti Malani for a virtual lecture Thursday afternoon. Courtesy of Nadir Al-Saidi.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief medical correspondent, appeared in an Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation (IHPI) webinar on Thursday, May 6 to be interviewed by Dr. Preeti Malani, Chief Health Officer at the University of Michigan, regarding the challenges of conveying scientific information during a global pandemic. The lecture, titled “A Conversation with Dr. Sanjay Gupta,” is part of a collaborative effort to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the IHPI foundation at the University. 

Gupta and Malani’s roots run deep at the University. Preceding his successful career in medicine and health journalism, Gupta completed his undergraduate degree, medical degree and neurosurgery residency at the University. While both Malani and Gupta completed their undergraduate degrees at the University together, Malani went on to complete her Internal Medicine residency and Infectious Diseases fellowship at the University and also received a Master’s in Clinical Research Design and Statistical Analysis.

With over 600 viewers tuned in, Gupta began with a reflection of his past year as a journalist and physician. Gupta said immersing himself into COVID-19 coverage has become something of an obsession to him as he has spent the past 16 months familiarizing himself with the subject.

“Since January of last year, (I) really felt like I have been sprinting,” Gupta said. “You are just constantly learning. Frankly, learning way more than I guess you would say you would need to learn to be a journalist.” 

Gupta highlighted two important personal lessons he has learned since the start of the pandemic. The idea of how optimistically people perceive statistics has greatly impacted decisions that communities make during times of uncertainty, he said. Gupta also said people have preconceived notions of what a coronavirus is and have trouble accepting the “novel coronavirus” as completely different from other coronaviruses they’ve encountered in the past.  

Malani shifted the conversation towards ways that journalism and news have impacted decisions across the globe. She asked Gupta to explain what qualities are important to look for in a news source. 

“To the extent that you can show that someone is devoid of conflict (of interest) is really important, and maybe obvious,” Gupta said. “A lot of the times people may not even know that they are conflicted and that can be even more difficult to parse out. It can diminish the credibility of the reporting in the public’s eye if someone does have a conflict, even if it didn’t necessarily infect the integrity of the subject matter.”

Malani went on to ask Gupta about what healthcare professionals can do to combat medical misinformation. Gupta said the audience should seek out “the honest brokers,” or those you can trust to give you accurate and truthful information.

“The idea that having data, evidence, facts, as your currency as a science reporter has always been … very important,” Gupta said. “The idea that scientists or public health experts can seem too didactic in how they present information … was an important point.” 

Gupta also spoke on the role of communication in society. He said that when it came to vaccinations, according to various studies, it seemed that healthcare providers are the most influential factor on if a given person chooses to get vaccinated. 

“It was their local healthcare providers…that made the biggest difference in whether or not they would ultimately get it,” Gupta said. “So, if you had to spend resources, as a country, trying to address vaccine hesitancy, the vast majority of it should be to make sure that there is not vaccine hesitancy among healthcare workers.”

Gupta touched on the price he’s paid this year while battling with loss. With an uncle passing away, Gupta said it has been quite a challenging time. 

“It’s been a tough year…I have known too many people that have died,” Gupta said. “I know there are millions of people who have had this happen to them, but it is jarring when it happens.” 

Lastly, Gupta spoke on vaccine disparities across the world. Gupta said he believes getting a vaccine is important, and has seen the challenges many low-income countries currently face. 

“There is someone being vaccinated every second in high-income countries,” Gupta said. “0.03% of (vaccines) have gone to low-income countries.”

Daily Staff Reporter Nadir Al-Saidi can be reached at alsaidin@umich.edu.