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Majority of state medical boards see increase in COVID-19 misinformation complaints against physicians

Article

An alarming amount of COVID-19 disinformation is prevalent even from physicians.

Most state medical boards are seeing an increase in complaints against physicians for spreading false or misleading information about COVID-19, according to a new survey.

The Federation of State Medical Boards has released the results of their 2021 survey and found that COVID-19 misinformation has affected almost all state medical boards.

The survey also found:

  • 67% of boards have experienced an increase in complaints related to licensee dissemination of false or misleading information.
  • 26% of medical boards have made or published statements about the dissemination of false or misleading information.
  • 21% of medical board have taken a disciplinary action against a licensee for disseminating false or misleading information.

“The staggering number of state medical boards that have seen an increase in COVID-19 disinformation complaints is a sign of how widespread the issue has become,” said Humayun J. Chaudhry, DO, MACP, President and CEO of the FSMB, in a press release.

The FSMB Board of Directors released a statement in July saying that physicians risk disciplinary action if they spread COVID-19 misinformation. Since then, 27 boards have either reported misleading statements by licensees or taken disciplinary action.

“Physicians who generate and spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation are risking disciplinary action by state medical boards, including the suspension or revocation of their medical license,” the July statement read. “Due to their specialized knowledge and training, licensed physicians possess a high degree of public trust and therefore have a powerful platform in society, whether they recognize it or not. They also have an ethical and professional responsibility to practice medicine in the best interests of their patients and must share information that is factual, scientifically grounded and consensus-driven for the betterment of public health. Spreading inaccurate COVID-19 vaccine information contradicts that responsibility, threatens to further erode public trust in the medical profession and puts all patients at risk.”

In addition, the FSMB Board Ethics and Professionalism Community is currently constructing a policy document that will list the specific guidelines and recommendations when future disinformation is encountered. The FSMB’s House of Delegates is expected to vote on the document in April 2022.

“We are encouraged by the number of boards that have already taken action to combat COVID-19 disinformation by disciplining physicians who engage in that behavior and by reminding all physicians that their words and actions matter.” Chaudhry said. “They should think twice before spreading disinformation that may harm patients.”

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Georges C. Benjamin, MD