Doctors unite to defend patients

In an earlier post I described a policy proposal written by a group of medical students. We asked the American Medical Association to take the lead on the issue of medical ethics in the media. It turns out that medical students are not the only contingent of medical professionals willing to take a stand on this topic.

The Resident & Fellow section of the AMA co-sponsored this proposal and brought it to floor of the AMA House of Delegates faster than anticipated. They even did one better by proposing a related policy that encourages media physicians to be clear to viewers what level of evidence supports the claims they are making.

The delegates, who represent doctors throughout the country, voted to support the policy proposal as we wrote it. The AMA will now be taking the lead in crafting ethical and professional guidelines for physicians who wish to disseminate medical information in the media. The AMA will also write a report describing how physicians may be subject to discipline for violating medical ethics in the media. And finally, the AMA will be releasing a public statement reiterating our professional values and condemning doctors who use the media unethically. You can read the full text of our proposal in the prior post.

So why do these things matter? I’m sure to many this sounds like a lot of bureaucracy and little action. So the following are some thoughts. This is my own interpretation and simplified explanation. I am not speaking for the AMA in any capacity.

1. This new policy recognizes that our traditional ethical guidelines don’t fully account for the dynamic of medicine in the mass media. A physician delivering medical information to potentially millions of viewers through a commercial platform cannot function under the same guidelines as a physician counseling individual patients.

Many of the leading experts in medical ethics are a part of the AMA. They will now go to work clarifying the nuances of “mass medicine” and will provide recommendations. No longer will quacks be able to benefit from a lack of specific standards and professional codes.

2. The AMA will create a document clarifying what disciplinary actions may be taken against a physician who uses the media unethically. There are avenues for redress available through the legal system, licensing boards, and the medical societies to name a few. If any physician or patient feels they have witnessed unethical use of the media by physicians they will now have a better understanding of what to do.

3. The AMA will release a statement reiterating the importance of this issue. The public will know that American doctors are taking seriously the epidemic of medical mis-information and even fraud being perpetuated in the media. We will not be silent if our colleagues abuse the trust patients place in us.

With the actions taken at this last meeting, the AMA is now willing to lead when it comes to crafting a profession that uses technology to promote public health while still maintaining rigorous ethics. I couldn’t be more proud of my colleagues.

In upcoming posts I will talk to the doctors and medical students who made this happen.

UPDATE: This policy advancement was covered by Vox.com here. Medscape.com covered this story here (site membership may be required).

June 11, 2015 | Benjamin Mazer