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Opinion | What to Do About Doctors Who Push Misinformation?

Typically, rogue physicians come to the attention of their state’s medical board only because a patient makes a formal complaint to the board. But many state medical boards have the authority under law to initiate an investigation of a dangerous doctor on their own, according to Dr. Humayan Chaudhry, president of the Federation of State Medical Boards.

Shouldn’t all state medical boards have such authority — especially when the “patient” in question is the nation? Arguably, the harm done by a doctor who knowingly pushes misleading medical information can be vastly more dangerous than whatever he or she does in a single patient encounter.

To date, there are no reports that a doctor has lost his medical license for spreading disinformation, according to Dr. Chaudhry. But some states are beginning to act. For example, the Oregon medical board recently suspended the license of a doctor who boasted on video about not wearing a mask at his clinic.

Doctors who provide outrageous advice that is far outside the bounds of accepted standards should be investigated by their state board and subject to sanctions, including revocation of their medical license.

The question, of course, is what constitutes “accepted medical standards.” Since medicine is not an exact science, reasonable minds can and should differ about the optimal treatment for a given medical disorder. There are many different ways, for example, to safely and effectively treat depression or high blood pressure.

But there are limits to what’s allowed, and no doctor should get away with pushing bad advice, especially during a pandemic. Even if a regulatory board doesn’t take action, one’s peers certainly can. Earlier this week, for example, nearly 1,500 lawyers urged the American Bar Association to investigate the conduct of President Trump’s legal team, including Rudy Giuliani, for making indefensible claims of widespread voting fraud and actively seeking to undermine public faith in the election’s integrity.

Doctors should realize that their advice is, in effect, a form of medicine. If they step outside accepted standards of practice, based on empirical evidence, it’s time for the state boards to take disciplinary action and protect the public from these dangerous doctors.

Richard A. Friedman, a contributing writer, is a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College.

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