This week, the American Medical Association (AMA), adopted a new policy to combat disinformation about public health at its annual House of Delegates meeting.
This policy targets healthcare professionals who promote misinformation about COVID-19 vaccinations and unproven treatments to the disease. It also has implications for other issues of public health. Some parts of the policy could be used to stop the licensure and board certification for physicians who engage in disinformation.
The AMA stated that the new policy is a comprehensive strategy to stop disinformation spreading and protect the health of the public. It includes actions that can be taken either by the AMA or social media companies, publishers, state licensing body, credentialing board, state and specialty medical professional societies and those who accredit continuing educational.
Gerald E. Harmon, MD, President of AMA, stated in a press release that physicians are a trusted source for information for patients and the general public. However, disinformation spread by a few can have serious consequences for the profession and cause harm. Physicians are responsible for truthful and accurate information sharing, correcting misleading and inaccurate information and directing patients to trustworthy sources of information.
Harmon said that even though it is too late to address this issue during the pandemic, Harmon stated that "we can act now in order to prevent disinformation spreading in the future."
CNN published an investigative report last October that found that many doctors were contributing to distrust in the COVID-19 vaccines. Christiane Northrup MD was one of those mentioned. She has 558,000 fans on her Facebook page. CNN reports that Northrup directed her followers to Telegram via her Facebook page, another social media site that promotes conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine misinformation.
CNN reported that Rashid Buttar MD has made many misleading statements and outrageous claims about the pandemic. These statements include the claim that most Americans who have received the vaccine will die by 2025. This is part of an effort to reduce the population. CNN reported that he also stated that COVID vaccines are causing more deaths than COVID itself.
The report also pointed out that Simone Gold, MD JD, a former ER doctor who pleaded guilty to entering US Capitol Building during the January 6 riots, has referred COVID vaccines to as an "experimental biologic agent whose harms have been well-documented."
Gold was instrumental in the formation of an opposition group to COVID-19 restrictions. He also supported the use hydroxychloroquine for treating the disease. It is not clear that hydroxychloroquine can be used for this purpose. CNN reported that Joseph Mercola, DO has been warned by the FDA for selling phony COVID treatments. Others have recommended ivermectin as a treatment for animal parasites. However, it has not been proven to be effective in treating COVID.
According to the AMA report, a Center for Countering Digital Hate study found that nearly three quarters of all 812,000 anti-vaccine posts on social media could be traced back to only 12 people. CNN reports that Buttar was one of them.
CNN quoted Humayun Chaudhry MD, President of the Federation of State Medical Boards as saying that more then a dozen state board directors had said they had received many complaints about doctors misinforming patients about COVID. He claimed that few of these complaints have led to disciplinary action.
This policy will be changed by the new AMA policy. The proposed actions include the following: "Ensure that licensing boards have the authority and power to discipline health professionals who spread health-related disinformation. Also, affirm that any speech a health professional uses is professional conduct which can be examined by their licensing entity."
The statement also stated that the policy was intended to "ensure specialty board have the authority to act against health professionals spreading disinformation about their health, and encourage state- and local medical societies, to dispel disinformation in their respective jurisdictions."
It is unclear how many state medical board members have the authority to discipline physicians who mislead patients or the public about COVID-related and other public health emergencies. This question could also be asked about board certification and medical specialty boards. These questions were not answered by any AMA officials.
The AMA stated that it will "work with health profession societies and other relevant organisations to implement a comprehensive strategic plan." This policy includes these priorities.
Keep AMA as a reliable source of evidence-based information that physicians and patients can trust
Engage with media organizations, researchers institutions and publishers to create best practices for paywalls, preprints, and other methods to increase access to evidence-based information.
Disinformation that is being disseminated via social media platforms by health professionals should be addressed. Also, it must be addressed how social media platforms can be monetized to spread disinformation.
Health professionals and the general public should be taught how to recognize disinformation and how it spreads.
Consider the role of professional health societies as fact-checking entities for health information disseminated via various media platforms
To prevent disinformation about health, encourage continuing education for health professionals.
Ken Terry is an author and journalist in the healthcare industry. His most recent book is "Physician Led Healthcare Reform: An Innovative Approach to Medicare For All."
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