AMA moves against doctors who are spreading COVID-19 disinformation

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, some healthcare professionals have deliberately made false claims about COVID-19 vaccines and how the virus is transmitted, peddled untested treatments and cures, and flouted public health efforts such as masking and vaccinations.

The spread of COVID disinformation poses serious health risks to patients and significantly damages vaccine confidence across the country, according to the American Medical Association (AMA), which took steps Monday to combat COVID-related disinformation created by physicians and other clinicians.

Physician, resident, and medical student members of the AMA House of Delegates adopted new policy Monday that calls for the association to collaborate with relevant health professional societies and other stakeholders to combat public health disinformation disseminated by health professionals in all forms of media.

While it was noted during the Special Interim Meeting that a small number of health professionals are using their professional license to validate the disinformation they are spreading, it has seriously undermined public health efforts. These individuals are harming the credibility of health professionals, including physicians, who are trusted sources of information for their patients and the public, the AMA said.

Under the new policy, the AMA will also study disinformation disseminated by health professionals and its impact on public health and develop a comprehensive strategy to address it.

RELATED: Health workers' licenses at risk if they spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation

“Physicians are among the most trusted source of information and advice for patients and the public at large, which is why it’s so dangerous when a physician or other health care professional spreads disinformation,” said AMA Board Member Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, M.D., M.P.H in a statement.

“While disinformation has run rampant during the COVID-19 pandemic, we know unscientific claims are being made about other health conditions and other public health initiatives are being undermined. We are committed to doing everything we can to stop the spread of disinformation and providing accurate, evidence-based information—the lives of our patients and the public depend on it," Ehrenfeld said.

Major medical certifying bodies also have taken steps to combat the problem by announcing that certified physicians may lose their license if they spread misleading information about the COVID-19 vaccines. 

The joint statement from the American Board of Family Medicine, the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Pediatrics supported an earlier move by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB).

Last June, the AMA adopted a policy urging social media companies to further strengthen their content moderation policies related to medical and public health misinformation. In addition, the AMA wrote to the chief executive officers of leading technology companies in December 2020 urging them to guard against disinformation that could derail the COVID-19 vaccination campaign and to remain vigilant against the proliferation of unintentional misinformation and purposeful disinformation on their platforms.