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Doctors providing “fraudulent” COVID-19 information became a hot-button issue for physicians responding to Medscape’s recent article,”Shouldn’t Doctors Who Spread False COVID-19 Information Lose Their Licenses?”
COVID-19 safety recommendations are set by mainstream medical organizations as new information becomes available, but some doctors consistently oppose advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other medical authorities. These physicians often promote off-label, unapproved use of medications for COVID-19 and/or contradict mainstream safety guidelines such as vaccines, masks, and social distancing.
Some medical organizations are concerned that these doctors are hampering efforts to control the highly contagious coronavirus and are, at worst, placing lives in danger with their contrarian views that can spread like wildfire on social media sites. Their words are often used by those who refuse to be vaccinated or wear masks.
State licensing boards have mostly refused to discipline these doctors for making false and/or misleading claims, but as the virus spreads, there are calls to take action against them. However, others worry that such actions would violate free speech and critical thought.
Medscape recently took on the question of whether doctors should lose their licenses for spreading misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19, which spurred a strong response from clinician readers.
Yes, Those Doctors Are Doing Wrong
Several physicians took a strong stand against their fellow doctors who are spreading misinformation about COVID-19.
One doctor endorsed the idea of removing licenses for spreading misinformation and called for criminal prosecution: “It should certainly be grounds for cancellation of all licensing (after appropriate examination to rule out acute psychotic episodes, dementia, tumor, etc) and very likely [include] a charge of manslaughter.”
Another healthcare provider said, “A person who does not accept science should not, of course, be allowed to practice medicine. One who argues publicly that vaccines and masks don’t work, should be prosecuted for crimes ranging from reckless endangerment to attempted murder.”
One reader framed COVID-19 misinformers in stark terms: “These men and women are medical prostitutes. Their medical and surgical colleges [should] have a panel to track in-court testimony and the disinformation they spread…”
“This is malpractice of the worst kind,” said a clinician. “Public health officials and science are quite clear on [the] best practices for safety during a pandemic, which is killing millions. This is a standard of care.”
“Medical Boards should suspend licenses and give the physician a chance to testify [about] the scientific basis for his comments,” added a healthcare provider. “Boards involve themselves in all kinds of perceived disciplinary infractions. We are in the midst of a lethal pandemic. I would think that would take precedence over many other issues?”
“I do believe that physicians have the responsibility to speak the truth and have scientifically displayed minds,” said a reader. “Not [to] promulgate misleading, false, and/or unverified information.”
“Any physician, who holds a license, should abide [by] government and state regulation,” asserted a doctor. “He should be disciplined by the board for spreading medical/public misinformation since he is creating potential harm to the population.”
One specialist insisted that “state boards do not do enough to restrict/limit the practice of physicians touting questionable therapies.”
“Any doctor who spreads false information about Covid is hurting our country, our individuals and our economy and leading to needless deaths,” asserted a physician. “However, there are uncertainties, and where those exist, physicians [should] simply say ‘it is unknown.’ “
No, Those Physicians Have a Right to Speak Their Beliefs
However, many physicians worried that science and controversial thought were being muzzled.
“Absolutely no,” a doctor stated. “Who judges what is misinformation in this age where debate is canceled? Science advances with challenge and it’s not about an authority dictating the allowable opinion.”
Another clinician claimed the “truth is very difficult to discern from less-than-truth in a country running on a profit-oriented economic ideology.”
One specialist warned that if disinformation doctors are held responsible, then “that means a lot of doctors” will be “gone” because “almost anything that is written or said about COVID can be contested.”
Another physician warned his colleagues about suppressing new ideas: “To condemn what we didn’t try, or purposefully ignore a different approach because [it] doesn’t agree with our opinion is suppression of information.”
Some doctors insisted the issue extended beyond medicine and into Constitutional freedoms. They also expressed their mistrust in the government to regulate physicians.
“There is a First Amendment in this country,” said one reader. “What you think is false may not be so. The people can listen to whoever they want to and make their own medical decisions. We do not need one iota more of politicizing medicine. Having an MD or DO does not mean you relinquish your First Amendment rights.”
“One of the fundamental problems with a system that allows government to ‘license’ physicians, or any other profession, is that politics inevitably turn to cronyism, and big businesses and wealthy people start controlling the government,” argued a doctor.
One clinician suggested enforcement against health food, drug company commercials, and talk shows: “What about all the [misinformation] at the health food stores and the like. Doctors of natural-whatever? Those info-commercials on tv. How many faxes do I get to ‘approve’ because ‘patients request’ braces and pain-treating expensive compounds advertised on TV? We tolerate those…. What about Dr Oz and the docs on talk shows claiming BS?”
And the Debate Goes Even Further
Some physicians questioned the very notion of claiming “truth.”
“Nobody should be certain that they have the ‘absolute truth,’ ” said one reader. “In fact, the best clinical insights exceed so-called knowledge by at least one step.”
“Who can determine exactly what is truth?” asked another clinician. “For sure, the ‘Federal Government,’ who ‘is here to help you,’ is not qualified to make such determinations, and who are you to make such a suggestion as to remove someone’s license because they disagree with you. Give me a break!”
Another physician echoed that sentiment: “What’s true and false is often and certainly currently debatable. There are well-qualified physicians (with credentials such as the development of mRNA technology), virologists and biostatisticians that have valid thoughts on this, but do not necessarily agree with the drug company-sponsored journals and news channels (most of them). Their voices should be heard and they should not lose their licenses. They are doing their work in good conscience.”
One reader commented that he wanted his “freedom of speech,” and offered this defiant advice: “You can take this license and shove it.”
Finally, a physician noted that the political climate has influenced medical directives: “If someone in a leadership role knowingly, and with intent, spread false information, that is wrong. However, during this global pandemic the active and the politics have combined. Red state no mandate, blue state mandate ― what does that tell you about American leadership?”