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Physicians Spreading Misinformation on Social Media – What Are the Consequences?

July 1, 2022

Written by Denrick Cooper

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The COVID pandemic revealed that misinformation can impede the dissemination of evidence based medicine. This article calls for institutional reform such that physicians who spread misinformation are held accountable.

Why does this matter?
The politicization of the pandemic along with social media clouded public trust in health institutions and health care information. Millions of lives have been affected by the spread of misinformation by healthcare providers. We must consider how and if we can hold misinforming physicians accountable.

If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you too? Well…depends on how many friends.
This article was a perspective piece by the CEO and chair-elect of American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM). They describe that social media has allowed for a forum of public opinion to take the place of evidence based practice. Some believe physician speech on social media is protected under the first amendment, while others believe it should be prosecuted, if incorrect, as harmful speech (ie. incorrectly yelling fire in a building).

Health institutions require board certification as an indicator of being up to date on evidence based medicine. The authors argue if we as a medical society require ourselves to be up to date on evidence based material in order to practice, then we should penalize those who are not practicing evidence based medicine.

As physicians, we have an ethical standard to uphold patient well being. This article calls for, and I agree with, a discrepancy between a range of opinions that are acceptable to hold in medical forum compared to “outright wrong” answers. Wrong answers have consequences often not at the stake of our own lives but impacting a wide range of patients that we may never see in front of us. With that said, our medical institutions should take action against physicians who spread medical misinformation. What is your stance?

Physicians Spreading Misinformation on Social Media – Do Right and Wrong Answers Still Exist in Medicine? N Engl J Med. 2022 May 18. doi: 10.1056/NEJMp2204813. Epub ahead of print.

What are your thoughts?