June 13, 2022 – With the spread of misinformation continuing to negatively impact efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and sowing mistrust of vaccines, public health mitigation efforts, and U.S. healthcare institutions, the American Medical Association (AMA) today adopted a policy at the Annual Meeting of its House of Delegates to tackle health-related disinformation spread by health professionals. As part of a report developed by the AMA’s Board of Trustees, the new policy provides a comprehensive strategy aimed at halting the spread of disinformation and protecting the health of the public, including actions that can be taken by the AMA, by companies of social media, publishers, state licensing bodies, accreditation boards, state and specialist healthcare companies, and those who accredit continuing education.
The report outlines how misinformation claims made by healthcare professionals can be directly linked to topics such as promoting unproven COVID-19 treatments, false claims about vaccine side effects, and public health guidelines that are not evidence-based. . Although misinformation from healthcare professionals spread rampant during the COVID-19 pandemic, the report cites a study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate that found that nearly two-thirds of anti-vaccine social media posts, or more than 812,000 individual posts, could be traced back to just twelve individuals, dubbed the “Dozen of Misinformation.” Given that financial gain can often be the reason for the spread of disinformation, the report notes the need to address both the person’s ability to find an audience to deceive and their ability to financially benefit from that audience.
“Doctors are a reliable source of information for both patients and the public, but the spread of disinformation by a few has implications for the entire profession and causes harm. Physicians have an ethical and professional responsibility to share truthful information, correct misleading and inaccurate information, and direct people to reliable sources of health information, “said AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD.” The AMA is committed to fight disinformation and we need to address the root of the problem. We must ensure that health professionals who spread disinformation are unable to use far-reaching platforms, often to their financial advantage, to disseminate dangerous health claims. While it is unlikely that we will 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. “
Extending the AMA’s existing efforts to tackle disinformation, the new policy requires that the AMA work with health professional associations and other relevant organizations to implement a comprehensive strategy that includes the following priorities:
- Maintain the AMA as a reliable source of evidence-based information for physicians and patients,
- Ensure that evidence-based medical and public health information is accessible by partnering with publishers, research institutes and media organizations to develop paywall and preprint best practices to improve access to evidence-based information and analytics ,
- Addressing disinformation spread by healthcare professionals via social media platforms and tackling the monetization of the spread of disinformation on social media platforms,
- Educate healthcare professionals and the public on how to recognize misinformation and how it spreads,
- Consider the role of health care companies in acting as an appropriate fact-checking entity for health-related information disseminated by various media platforms,
- Encourage continuing education to be available for health professionals to act as fact-checkers to help prevent the spread of health-related disinformation,
- Ensuring that licensing committees have the authority to take disciplinary action against healthcare professionals for disseminating health-related disinformation and claim that any speech in which a healthcare practitioner is using their credentials is professional conduct and can be reviewed by the authorization body,
- Ensure that specialized committees have the authority to take action against board certification for health care professionals disseminating health-related disinformation and
- Encourage state and local medical societies to commit to dispelling disinformation in their jurisdictions.
The new report provides an overview of the ways in which disinformation is disseminated by healthcare professionals, particularly through social media platforms. While the report notes that disinformation existed long before the internet and social media became commonplace, social media platforms have acted as a multiplier of the spread of disinformation, particularly fueling the prevalence of disinformation on COVID-19. The report concludes that the fight against disinformation spread by healthcare professionals, particularly through social media, will require a three-pronged approach: depriving the priorities of disinformation in social media algorithms, affirming and strengthening the role of reactive fact verification, and addressing any incentive structure underpinning health professionals who spread health disinformation.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the AMA conducted numerous efforts to build trust in vaccines, support science, and tackle disinformation and disinformation, including by urging the CEOs of six major social media and e-commerce companies to remain vigilant against the proliferation of both intentional disinformation and unintentional disinformation on their platforms. Since the start of the pandemic, the AMA has provided physicians with up-to-date information on COVID-19 news, research, vaccines and therapies through its online COVID-19 resource center. The AMA will continue to leverage its communication channels and network to provide physicians with the most relevant and fact-based information and resources to share with their patients and will continue to support policies to combat the further spread of disinformation and health disinformation.
About the AMA
The American Medical Association is physicians’ powerful ally in patient care. As the only medical association that brings together over 190 state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders, the AMA represents physicians with a unified voice to all key health care players. The AMA harnesses its strength by removing obstacles that interfere with patient care, leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and address public health crises, and, guiding the future of medicine to address the greatest challenges in healthcare. For more information, visit ama-assn.org.