AMA looks to fight back against health professionals spreading misinformation

AMA has adopted a multi-prong strategy to try to counter lies while holding the person responsible to professional review

In reaction to doctors and other medical professionals spreading misinformation and lies during the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Medical Association has adopted a policy aimed at both countering misinformation while also holding those responsible accountable to their professional boards.

False claims made by health professionals can be directly linked to topics such as the promotion of unproven COVID-19 treatments, inaccurate claims of vaccine side effects, and public health guidance that is not evidence-based. The root of the problem is associated with a dozen individuals who accounted for almost two-thirds of anti-vaccine social media posts.

Because these individuals can profit from the disinformation, the AMA said there is a need to address both the person’s ability to find an audience to deceive and their ability to benefit financially from that audience.

“Physicians are a trusted source of information for patients and the public alike, but the spread of disinformation by a few has implications for the entire profession and causes harm,” said AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, M.D., in a statement. “Physicians have an ethical and professional responsibility to share truthful information, correct misleading and inaccurate information, and direct people to reliable sources of health information. The AMA is committed to confronting disinformation, and we need to address the root of the problem. We must ensure that health professionals spreading disinformation aren’t able to use far-reaching platforms, often benefitting them financially, to disseminate dangerous health claims. While we are unlikely to undo the harms caused by disinformation campaigns during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can act now to help prevent the spread of disinformation in the future.”

The new policy calls for the AMA to work with health professional societies and other relevant organizations to implement a comprehensive strategy that includes the following priorities:

  • Maintain AMA as a trusted source of evidence-based information for physicians and patients,
  • Ensure evidence-based medical and public health information is accessible by engaging with publishers, research institutions and media organizations to develop best practices around paywalls and preprints to improve access to evidence-based information and analysis,
  • Address disinformation disseminated by health professionals via social media platforms and address the monetization of spreading disinformation on social media platforms,
  • Educate health professionals and the public on how to recognize disinformation as well as how it spreads,
  • Consider the role of health professional societies in serving as appropriate fact-checking entities for health-related information disseminated by various media platforms,
  • Encourage continuing education to be available for health professionals who serve as fact-checker to help prevent the dissemination of health-related disinformation,
  • Ensure licensing boards have the authority to take disciplinary action against health professionals for spreading health-related disinformation and affirms that all speech in which a health professional is utilizing their credentials is professional conduct and can be scrutinized by their licensing entity,
  • Ensure specialty boards have the authority to take action against board certification for health professionals spreading health-related disinformation, and
  • Encourage state and local medical societies to engage in dispelling disinformation in their jurisdictions.

The report notes that social media platforms have amplified the ability for misinformation to spread. It concludes that combating disinformation spread by health professionals, particularly over social media, will require a three-pronged approach: deprioritizing disinformation in social media algorithms, affirming and empowering the role of reactive fact-checking, and addressing any underlying incentive structure for health professionals spreading health-related disinformation.