Misinformation in Medicine

RJ Baron, YD Ejnes. NEJM 2022; 387:1-3. Physicians Spreading Misinformation on Social Media — Do Right and Wrong Answers Still Exist in Medicine?

The authors, representing the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM), assert that “there aren’t always right answers, but some answers are clearly wrong.” In their commentary, they note that there is “growing allegiance to crowd-endorsed ‘facts.'” Yet, they expect physicians to adhere to higher standards; however, they note the inherent conflict between speech that can be prohibited by licensing boards and speech protected by the First Amendment.

My take: While the authors state that physicians risk disciplinary action for spreading misinformation, I remain skeptical that licensing boards have the appetite to do this, particularly when it comes to disciplining high-profile offenders like Mehmet Oz or Joseph Ladapo (Florida Surgeon General) (Business Insider: Dr. Oz is running for US Senate in Pennsylvania. Here are 8 times he’s made false or baseless medical claims; Insider: Florida’s surgeon general breaks with CDC advice, says the state will be the first to ‘officially recommend against the COVID-19 vaccine for healthy children‘).

PA Cohen et al. NEJM 2022; 387: 3-5. Institutionalizing Misinformation — The Dietary Supplement Listing Act of 2022

Dietary supplements are another part of medicine with rampant misinformation. In fact, there is nearly ubiquitous misinformation through advertisements across all media segments. Americans spent ~$55 billion on dietary supplements in 2020. This commentary discusses a Senate bill, the Dietary Supplement Listing Act of 2022, which ostensibly would improve this situation.

However, this is NOT the case. This bill requires manufacturers to provide the FDA with a product’s name, ingredients and health claims. It mandates the FDA create a searchable database. What the legislation doesn’t do:

  • Provide the the FDA with a mechanism to confirm a product’s ingredients
  • Enable regulation of misleading health claims
  • Stop the promotion and sale of supplements with dangerous ingredients
  • Allow the FDA to remove products from its registry determined to have unlawful ingredients and remove products deemed hazardous

My take: This legislation needs to be strengthened to limit deception. In its current form, this registry would appear to confer FDA oversight to dietary supplements (which is minimal) and paradoxically legitimize dietary supplements .

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