Given the dangerous spread of public health disinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic, physician, resident, and medical student members of the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates adopted policy today aimed at combatting public health disinformation disseminated by health care professionals. 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.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, some health care 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—posing serious health risks to patients and significantly damaging vaccine confidence across the country. The new policy calls for the AMA to collaborate with relevant health professional societies and other stakeholders to combat public health disinformation disseminated by health professionals in all forms of media and address disinformation that undermines public health initiatives.
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.
“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. “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.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the AMA has led numerous efforts aimed at advocating for science and evidence in combatting COVID-19 and adopted policy last June 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. The AMA will continue to advocate for and support policies and initiatives to help combat medical disinformation and protect public health.