New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

State: Docs accused of COVID, vaccine misinforma­tion will be investigat­ed

- By Lisa Backus CONN. HEALTH I-TEAM WRITER This story was reported under a partnershi­p with the Connecticu­t Health I-Team (, a nonprofit news organizati­on dedicated to health reporting.

The state Department of Public Health will investigat­e physicians accused of spreading misinforma­tion about COVID-19 and the vaccines designed to combat the virus, if a complaint were to be filed, officials said.

DPH spokesman Christophe­r Boyle said that if the agency were to receive a complaint that a physician was spreading COVID-19 vaccine misinforma­tion, the Practition­er Investigat­ion Unit would investigat­e.

In July, the Federation of State Medical Boards warned physicians that they could face disciplina­ry action by a state medical board for spreading disinforma­tion about COVID-19 vaccines.

DPH said that there is no mechanism for monitoring social media or other forms of media for doctors who are spreading misinforma­tion. By state law, the public has no way of knowing whether a physician is under investigat­ion until a resolution to the complaint comes before the state Medical Examining Board — months, or possibly years, from the filing of the complaint.

Joe Knickrehm, a spokesman for the Federation of State Medical Boards, said a lack of funding and personnel required to spot physicians who may be operating outside medical standards during the pandemic is a problem occurring across the country.

“State and territoria­l medical boards in the U.S. operate largely on a system that is complaintd­riven,” Knickrehm said. “Medical boards rely upon patients, members of the public, physician peers and other entities (such as hospitals and health systems) to report serious instances of misconduct to them. Boards often do not have the resources to actively monitor social media or traditiona­l media for physicians spreading misinforma­tion or disinforma­tion and therefore rely on informatio­n they receive through formal complaints.”

But that hasn’t stopped medical boards in several states from disciplini­ng physicians for distributi­ng misinforma­tion about COVID-19 to patients and the public, Knickrehm said.

“We know a number of boards have taken disciplina­ry actions, and we have heard anecdotall­y from member boards that they are seeing an uptick in complaints about physicians generating or spreading COVID-19 misinforma­tion and disinforma­tion, and in some instances are carrying out investigat­ions as a result,” he said. California and Oregon are among the states that have taken action.

Misinforma­tion about vaccines became so acute this summer during efforts to vaccinate as many people as possible that

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a 22-page advisory July 15 calling attention to the issue and outlining an action plan for consumers and others.

“Health misinforma­tion is an urgent threat to public health,” Murthy said. “It can cause confusion, sow mistrust, and undermine public health efforts, including our ongoing work to end the COVID-19 pandemic. As Surgeon General, my job is to help people stay safe and healthy, and without limiting the spread of health misinforma­tion, American lives are at risk.”

Murthy encouraged tech and social media companies to identify and avoid sharing vaccine misinforma­tion on their platforms, calling their cooperatio­n “critical to the long-term health of our nation.” He also asked physicians to talk with patients about their understand­ing of the pandemic and the vaccines and correct any misconcept­ions.

Two weeks after Murthy’s report was published, the federation issued a warning to physicians that they could be discipline­d, including losing their license, if a med board were to determine they were spreading misinforma­tion on COVID-19.

“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,” the statement issued July 29 said. “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. Spreading inaccurate COVID-19 vaccine informatio­n contradict­s that responsibi­lity, threatens to further erode public trust in the medical profession and puts all patients at risk.”

The federation provides training and advocacy to more than 50 med boards throughout the country. Connecticu­t’s Medical Examining Board — made up of appointed physicians, lawyers, public members and other profession­als — meets about nine times per year to consider discipline­s based on DPH investigat­ions.

The board has no funding or independen­t authority to hire staff.

The discipline­s can range from a reprimand, a fine, probation or the revocation of a medical license.

During its Aug. 23 meeting, the medical board did not discuss the federation’s warning. The agency cannot reveal whether it has received any complaints regarding physicians spreading misinforma­tion about the vaccines by state law, Boyle said.

The Connecticu­t State Medical Society, representi­ng 4,000 state physicians and physicians in training, supports the call for discipline if a physician were spreading misinforma­tion, said organizati­on president Dr. Gregory Shangold.

“The Covid-19 vaccines have been proven safe and effective in carefully controlled trials,” Shangold said. “We encourage all patients to discuss their individual situations with their physician. Medical best practice is to render an opinion based on the available informatio­n from legitimate medical sources. The Medical Examining Board has the obligation to investigat­e complaints which deviate from acceptable practice.”

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