Political pressure affecting medical boards' misinformation policies

The statements some state medical boards adopted to prevent physicians from spreading COVID-19 misinformation are now threatened by political pressure to restrict medical boards' authority in this area, NPR reported Feb. 14. 

Tennesee's Board of Medical Examiners in September adopted a statement that said physicians spreading misinformation related to COVID-19 may lose their license to practice medicine. The statement — which warns physicians that spreading inaccurate information about COVID-19 vaccines or treatments "threatens to further erode public trust in the medical profession and puts all patients at risk" — was then shared on a government website and adopted by more than a dozen other state medical boards. 

The Federation of State Medical Boards is tracking legislation in at least 14 states that would restrict a state board's authority to enforce the statements related to COVID-19 misinformation. The federation's CEO, Humayun Chaudhry, DO, called it an "unwelcome trend," adding that the COVID-19-specific statement simply restates the existing rule that physicians who engage in behavior that puts patients at risk could face disciplinary action. 

The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners in December voted to remove the misinformation statement from its website to avoid being called into a legislative hearing after Republican state Rep. John Raga sent the board a letter threatening to disband it if it did not remove the statement. In January, the board decided to stick with the policy, though it has not reposted the statement. 

The situation in Tennessee may be the most prominent example of the tension between state medical board's and conservative lawmakers, though political pressure is threatening medical boards' authority in other states, NPR reports. 

Politico reported Feb. 1 that medical boards have penalized eight physicians in one year for furthering COVID-19, vaccine and therapeutic misinformation.


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