RNZ reported that New Zealand doctors spreading misinformation about Covid-19 may lose their job. Medical Council chair Dr Curtis Walker said a small number of doctors were peddling conspiracies. “It’s questioning the severity of Covid, it’s questioning the safety of vaccination, it’s questioning whether the whole thing is a conspiracy theory. You know you name it, this is what’s been put out there.”
The council has received 13 complaints about medical staff from the public this year – although that included instances of multiple complaints about the same doctor. It comes after it was reported last month that dozens of heath professions, including GPs, signed an open letter opposing the Pfizer vaccine.
NZ Royal College of General Practitioners president Dr Samantha Murton said while people could choose not to get vaccinated there were serious consequences if the virus breached the borders. “If those vulnerable people are being given misinformation, they may choose to do something that’s really detrimental to their health. What worries me the most is the poorer people, the people who are at higher risk. If they’re getting this … misinformation then it’s potentially putting their lives in jeopardy.”
Kate Hannah, who researches misinformation at the University of Auckland, said anyone could be sucked in – including highly educated people such as doctors. Most misinformation originated overseas – with people here adapting it to target particular demographics, she said. “And in doing so it targets people’s lived experiences of things like racism in the health system or racism more broadly, or say women’s experiences of the health system where they may have experiences of previously not being listened to.”
Ways to spot misinformation included if someone was trying to sell you something; was asking for donations; or the information was presented to elicit an emotional reaction. “If it’s written in a way that makes you feel upset or scared, or nervous or fearful, you know that’s not normally how we convey good quality public health information. Good quality public health information should provide you with information and make you feel reassured and calm and like you can make good decisions.” Other red flags included asking for personal information or to sign up to receive regular updates – ways to separate you from your current community or sources of information, Hannah said. Covid conspiracies could act as as a gateway, exposing people to online communities espousing far right ideology, misogyny, racism and transphobia, she said.
Willful misinformation about a serious health matter amounts to a violation of medical ethics. It, therefore, stands to reason that healthcare professionals who engage in such activities should be reprimanded. If that is so, it applies not just to COVID-19 but to any medical misinformation. Moreover, I should not just apply to doctors, but to all healthcare professionals.
If we do this systematically, it would mean that also providers of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) might get struck off their professional register, if they make unsubstantiated claims in cases of serious illnesses.
Not realistic, you say?
Why not? After all, medical ethics cannot be bent to protect the interests of SCAM professionals.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?