Physicians linked to COVID-19 misinformation rarely disciplined

Physicians who provided medical misinformation that affected patient's care throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have seen few consequences, The Washington Post found.

The Federation of State Medical Boards, a nonprofit that represents all U.S. state medical boards, warned in July 2021 that physicians could risk their medical licenses by furthering COVID-19 misinformation online and in the media. 

The Post analyzed disciplinary records from medical boards in all 50 states. At least 20 doctors nationally were disciplined for complaints of COVID-19 misinformation between January 2020 and June 2023. Five of those physicians lost their medical licenses, with one revoked and four surrendered. Medical boards in at least 14 states had taken disciplinary action against one or more physicians. 

The discipline of 20 physicians reflects a small portion of the number of complaints medical boards fielded about COVID-19 misinformation over three years. The Post's requests to the boards returned at least 480 COVID-misinformation-related complaints. By the end of 2021, two-thirds of state medical boards reported an increase in the number of COVID-19 misinformation complaints coming in. 

Many of the complaints related to physicians' promotion of ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. The drugs have been disproved as effective treatments for the virus and are not recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. 

"State boards can only do limited things," Humayun Chaudhry, DO, president of FSMB, told the Post. "The most common refrain I hear from state licensing boards is they would like to have more resources — meaning more individuals who can investigate complaints, more attorneys, more people who can process these complaints sooner — to do their job better."

Medical boards' decisions are not unilateral, and several states have passed laws to thwart medical boards' oversight the last two years. 

No organization monitors how many physicians have been penalized for spreading COVID-19 misinformation.


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