In response to the spread of misinformation and lies by doctors and other healthcare professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic, American Medical Association adopted a policy aimed at both countering misinformation and holding those responsible accountable to their professional councils.

False claims made by medical professionals can be directly related to topics such as the promotion of unproven COVID-19treatments, inaccurate claims about side effects of vaccines, and public health recommendations that are not based on evidence. The root of the problem is a dozen individuals, which accounted for almost two-thirds anti-vaccination social media posts.

Because these people can profit from misinformation, the AMA said both an individual’s ability to find an audience to deceive and their ability to profit financially from that audience must be considered.

“Physicians are a trusted source of information for both patients and the public, but the spread of misinformation by some of them has implications for the entire profession and causes harm,” said AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD. “Physicians have an ethical and professional responsibility to provide truthful information, correct misleading and inaccurate information, and refer people to reliable sources of medical information. The AMA is committed to countering misinformation, and we need to get to the root of the problem. We must ensure that medical professionals who spread disinformation cannot use far-reaching platforms, often financially beneficial for them, to spread health-threatening claims. While we are unlikely to be able to undo the damage 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 the AMA as a trusted source of evidence-based information for physicians and patients,
  • Make evidence-based health and public health information accessible by engaging with publishers, research institutes, and media organizations to develop best practices for using paywalls and preprints to improve access to evidence-based information and analysis.
  • Combating misinformation spread by healthcare professionals through social media platforms and combating the monetization of the spread of misinformation on social media platforms,
  • Educate healthcare professionals and the public on how to recognize misinformation and how it spreads,
  • Consider the role of health professional societies as relevant fact-checking organizations for health-related information disseminated by various media platforms,
  • Encourage continuing education for healthcare professionals who perform fact-checking functions to help prevent the spread of health-related misinformation,
  • Ensure that licensing boards have the authority to take disciplinary action against healthcare professionals for spreading health-related misinformation and confirm that all speech in which a healthcare professional uses their authority is professional conduct and can be scrutinized by their licensing authority.
  • Ensure that specialist councils have the power to take action against the certification of health professional councils that spread health-related misinformation, and
  • Encourage state and local medical societies to participate in debunking disinformation within their jurisdiction.

The report notes that social media platforms have expanded the scope for disinformation to spread. It concludes that combating misinformation spread by health professionals, especially in social mediaa three-pronged approach will be required: de-emphasizing disinformation in social media algorithms, reaffirming and strengthening the role of reactive fact-checking, and removing any underlying incentive structure for healthcare professionals to spread health-related misinformation.

Originally published on our sister brand, medical economics.

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