WMC Takes Public Action Against COVID-19 Misinformation
OLYMPIA, WA – On Wednesday, September 22, 2021, the Washington Medical Commission (WMC) voted during a special meeting of commissioners to unanimously adopt a COVID-19 Misinformation Position Statement. As a physician and licensee of the WMC, the Secretary of Health, Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH had this to say about the WMC’s position,
“It has never been more vital for trusted healthcare professionals to band together against the threat of misinformation. As we battle COVID-19, with so many tools at our disposal to protect ourselves and others, it is viral misinformation, rooted in unfounded scientific claims, that often stands in our way. It is our ethical duty to listen to our patients concerns, course-correct when people fall prey to falsehoods, and help them make informed medical decisions that are guided by research and medical science. Now more than ever we must align with the oath we took to “do no harm,” and part of that means trusting science, listening, educating and caring for our patients according to the guidelines set by the FDA, the CDC, and experts at the state health department as we work to care for and protect the people we treat.”
What this position statement means for the public is, the WMC may discipline practitioners who are found offering treatments and recommendations regarding COVID-19 that fall below standard of care as established by medical experts, federal authorities and legitimate medical research. A simplified version of that explanation can be labeled as COVID misinformation. Commissioner and ER physician, Harlan Gallinger said,
“As a practicing emergency physician we are on the front line and we are continuing to get bombarded and overwhelmed by patients who are not vaccinated and I think that’s in large part because of misinformation. And, I believe that we should be standing up on behalf of the practice of medicine. I support the statement and appreciate that it expresses what our expectation is from a professionalism standpoint about what is defined as misinformation.”
The WMC has always held the same position regarding actions that fall below the standard of care as determined by the Uniform Disciplinary Act. However, politicization of COVID-19 and an influx of complaints regarding COVID misinformation prompted the WMC to reinforce its stance. Commissioner and public member Scott Rogers said,
“This is not a new policy, this is not a new rule that we are making. We are following everything we have always followed in looking at evidence-based medicine.
The vast majority of the 35,000 physicians and physician assistants licensed by the WMC are not engaging in these behaviors. Despite this fact, COVID misinformation has gained significant press coverage, especially examples of practitioners recommending or writing ivermectin prescriptions. However, numerous complaints and public outcry further motivated the WMC to offer clarity for an oft-confused public regarding misinformation. Commissioner and ER physician Terry Murphy said,
“I would like to say to the public we are trying to protect you. And, whether you are vaccinated or not, if you have COVID we will do everything in our power to save your life. But, these are unprecedented times. I have never worked in a state, where after 30 phone calls I’ve been told there is not a bed for your patient. So we have to shift our focus from treatment to prevention and that is part of this document… to give people comfort… because I have talked to so many people who have said, ‘I was supposed to get my COVID shot tomorrow but I am sick now.”
The WMC is not alone in its efforts to underscore the potential for discipline related to COVID misinformation. The Washington Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission (NCQAC) voted to adopt a similar position on September 8, 2021. NCQAC Executive Director, Paula Meyer said,
“Nurses who generate and spread COVID-19 misinformation, or disinformation, erode public trust in the nursing profession and endanger patients. The Nursing Commission (NCQAC) takes the spread of misinformation seriously, and will do its part to combat it, even through disciplinary action when necessary.”
Laurie Soine, PhD, ARNP, and Chair of the Nursing Commission adds,
“As trusted health professionals, nurses across our state play a critical role in the communication of health information. What nurses say and what nurses do - matter immensely to the health outcomes of individual patients and their communities”
Several state medical boards have taken a position on misinformation related to COVID-19 vaccines. Much of this was prompted by the Federation of State Medical Board’s (FSMB) statement on spreading COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.
The WMC position statement mirrors the FSMB stance, “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.” Commissioner and public member Yanling Yu said,
“It is about time for the commission to stand up and say misinformation harms patients and I think we are doing the right thing.”
The WMC and the Nursing Commission call on all other health profession regulators to take similar action and adopt a clear prohibition on COVID-19 misinformation and adherence to the standard of care.
For more information on this issue, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Public access to the Washington Medical Commission COVID-19 Misinformation Position Statement can be found on the wmc.wa.gov website here. Video of the meeting to adopt this statement can be found at the WMC YouTube page at https://youtu.be/P5qDoNWfdhI
The Washington Medical Commission promotes patient safety and enhances the integrity of the medical profession through licensing, rulemaking, discipline, and education. Learn more about the commission at WMC.wa.gov. Follow the WMC on Facebook and Twitter.