Since about two years, I am regularly trying to warn people of charlatans of all types who mislead the public on COVID-related subjects. In this context, a recent paper in JAMA is noteworthy. Allow me to quote just a few passages from it:
COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation flood the public discourse; physicians are not the only source. But their words and actions “may well be the most egregious of all because they undermine the trust at the center of the patient-physician relationship, and because they are directly responsible for people’s health,” Pawleys Island, South Carolina, family medicine physician Gerald E. Harmon, MD, president of the American Medical Association (AMA), (which publishes JAMA), wrote recently. In November, the AMA House of Delegates adopted a new policy to counteract disinformation by health care professionals.
… Few physicians have been disciplined so far, even though the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), representing the state and territorial boards that license and discipline physicians, and, in some cases, other health care professionals, and the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), consisting of the boards that determine whether physicians can be board-certified, have issued statements cautioning against spreading false COVID-19 claims.
In July 2021, the FSMB warned that spreading COVID-19 misinformation could put a physician’s license at risk. The organization said it was responding “to a dramatic increase in the dissemination of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and disinformation by physicians and other health care professionals.”
The ABMS released a statement in September 2021. “The spread of misinformation and the misapplication of medical science by physicians and other medical professionals is especially harmful as it threatens the health and well being of our communities and at the same time undermines public trust in the profession and established best practices in care,” the ABMS said.
In an annual survey of its 70 member boards conducted in fall 2021, the FSMB asked about complaints and disciplinary actions related to COVID-19. Of the 58 boards that responded, 67% said they had seen an uptick in complaints about licensees spreading false or misleading COVID-19 misinformation, according to results released in December 2021. But only 12 (21%) of the 58 boards said they’d taken disciplinary action against a physician for that reason…
- What percentage of lay-homeopaths misinform their patients?
- What percentage of chiropractors misinform their patients?
- What percentage of energy healers misinform their patients?
- What percentage of naturopaths misinform their patients?
- What percentage of acupuncturists misinform their patients?
- etc., etc.
As the total number of SCAM practitioners might, in some parts of the world, easily outnumber doctors, these questions are highly relevant. Yet, I am not aware of any reliable data on these issues. Judging from what I have observed (and written about) during the pandemic, I guess that the percentages are likely to be substantial and way higher than those for doctors. To me, this suggests that we ought to focus much more on SCAM practitioners if, in future health crises, we want to prevent the confusion and harm that misinformation inevitably causes.