Nov. 22, 2021 – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the American Medical Association (AMA) is stepping up efforts to stop the dangerous spread of information, particularly when it comes from healthcare professionals (HCPs) who are using their licenses to validate the disinformation they are spreading.
This scenario – where HCPs deliberately make false claims about COVID-19 vaccines and how the virus is transmitted, promote untested treatment and cures or flout public health efforts like masking and vaccinations – is harming the credibility of physicians, according to a statement the AMA released last week.
”This separate epidemic of misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19, vaccinations in general, and other health issues severely harms public health efforts, individual patient care, and the ability of our member organizations to present accurate and credible information about innovations in diagnosis and management,” said Jon Bigelow, executive director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication. “We commend the AMA for taking a strong stand.”
To target public health disinformation disseminated by HCPs, physician, resident and medical student members of the AMA House of Delegates voted to adopt a policy Nov. 15 that calls for the AMA “to collaborate with relevant health professional societies and other stakeholders to combat public health disinformation … in all forms of media and address disinformation that undermines public health initiatives,” the AMA states.
The AMA also will study how disinformation disseminated by HCPs impacts public health and develop a comprehensive strategy for dealing with such behavior.
“Physicians are among the most trusted sources 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. “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,” he said.
The AMA is “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 asserted.
The organization also has led numerous efforts aimed at advocating for science and evidence in combatting COVID-19 and adopted a policy last June urging social media companies to further strengthen their content moderation policies related to medical and public health misinformation, according to the AMA.
Further, 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.”