67% of state medical boards see rise in complaints against COVID-19 misinformation, disinformation

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The Federation of State Medical Boards on Dec. 9 released findings from its annual survey showing that 67 percent of its members have experienced an increase in complaints related to licensee dissemination of untrue or misleading COVID-19 information. 

The national nonprofit organization, which supports state medical boards in licensing, disciplining and regulating clinicians, also found that 26 percent of state medical boards have made or published statements about disseminating misinformation or disinformation. Additionally, 21 percent of survey respondents said they have taken a disciplinary action against a licensee for disseminating misinformation or disinformation.

"The staggering number of state medical boards that have seen an increase in COVID-19 disinformation complaints is a sign of how widespread the issue has become," Federation of State Medical Boards President and CEO Humayun Chaudhry, DO, said in a news release. "We are encouraged by the number of boards that have already taken action to combat COVID-19 disinformation by disciplining physicians who engage in that behavior and by reminding all physicians that their words and actions matter, and they should think twice before spreading disinformation that may harm patients."

The Federation of State Medical Boards released its survey findings months after the organization warned July 29 that physicians who post COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation could lose their medical license if they spread untrue or misleading information on social media, online and in the media. 

"Since the release of this statement, several state medical boards have either endorsed it, or developed similar statements of their own which clarify professional responsibilities regarding the appropriate conveyance of medical information, especially during a pandemic," Dr. Chaudhry said during the American Medical Association's meeting last November. "The FSMB is currently developing policy to provide guidance to our member state medical boards and clarify expectations regarding the appropriate use of evidence, physician responsibilities related to informed consent in treating relationships, and the importance of safeguarding society's trust in the medical profession."

The Federation of State Medical Boards news release said at least 12 boards have taken disciplinary action against a licensee for spreading misinformation or disinformation since the July warning. In November, for example, a Maine regulatory board said it suspended a physician's license to practice after reviewing multiple COVID-19 "exemption letters" signed by Paul Gosselin, DO, as well as provider reports that Dr. Gosselin spread misinformation about the virus. The Federation of State Medical Boards said disciplinary actions will continue as investigations are finalized.

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