State Medical Boards Report 67% Hike in COVID-19 Misinformation Complaints

By Christopher Cheney

State medical boards are being impacted by the dissemination of false or misleading information about COVID-19, and they are taking action to address the problem, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB).

The spreading of misinformation about COVID-19, which has included false or misleading information from some physicians, has been a troubling aspect of the coronavirus pandemic. The misinformation has included erroneous recommendations related to treatments and vaccination.

Last week, the FSMB released data from the organization’s 2021 annual survey of member state medical boards. The survey includes three key data points on COVID-19 misinformation and state medical board actions to address it.

  • 67% of survey respondents reported an increase in complaints about licensee dissemination of COVID-19 misinformation
  • 26% of survey respondents reported making statements about the dissemination of misinformation
  • 21% of survey respondents reported taking disciplinary action against a licensee for dissemination of misinformation

The leader of the FSMB says the increase in complaints is alarming, and he hailed the response of state medical boards.

“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. 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,” FSMB President and CEO Humayun Chaudhry, DO, said in a prepared statement.

In July, the FSMB Board of Directors issued a statement alerting physicians that they could face disciplinary action from state medical boards for disseminating misinformation about COVID-19 vaccination.

“Physicians who generate and spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation are risking disciplinary action by state medical boards, including the suspension or revocation of their medical license. Due to their specialized knowledge and training, licensed physicians possess a high degree of public trust and therefore have a powerful platform in society, whether they recognize it or not. They also have an ethical and professional responsibility to practice medicine in the best interests of their patients and must share information that is factual, scientifically grounded and consensus-driven for the betterment of public health,” the board statement says.

The FSMB Ethics and Professionalism Committee is crafting a policy on guidelines and recommendations for state medical boards on the dissemination of misinformation by licensees. The FSMB House of Delegates is expected to vote on adoption of the policy in April 2022.

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.