Medical students take action

Organized medicine has predominantly taken a passive approach to quack doctors who spread misinformation. While groups like the American Medical Association have policy on the books asking doctors to disseminate scientifically-accurate medical advice, they have not used their large budgets and clout to publicly criticize the doctors who chronically ignore their ethical obligations.

Medical students are now asking the AMA to actively defend the integrity of the profession. Joy Lee, a medical student and member of the AMA-MSS Committee on Legislation and Advocacy, led the creation of the following resolution. I am one of its co-authors. This resolution is not a hasty attempt to stir controversy, but was carefully written with input from multiple stakeholders. It asks the AMA to issue a public statement that reiterates the importance of evidence and transparency to the profession. It asks the AMA to craft guidelines on how doctors can ethically use the media to help the public. Finally, it asks the AMA to issue a report on what disciplinary pathways might be available for doctors who continue to spread bogus medical information in the media.

In June, this resolution will be brought before the Medical Student Section of the AMA, where we will ask for the sponsorship of medical students from across the country. Following this vote, we hope the medical students will bring the resolution before the entire AMA House of Delegates.

I couldn’t be more proud of my fellow medical students. Medical students remain in many way the conscience of medicine. All resolutions are open to amendment and public discussion throughout this process. We will continue to revise our policy request and engage in this important discussion. We’ll share updates on this blog.

Please continue sending your stories and perspectives. I’ll be using the experiences shared with Doctors In Oz in my official testimony for this and other policy resolutions.

WHEREAS,  Patients receive medical information from a variety of sources other than their physician, including media outlets such as news programs and talk shows which feature physicians as experts; and

WHEREAS, The medical information disseminated in the media reaches millions of Americans, affects public health, and changes health behaviors;1-6 and

WHEREAS, The talk shows The Dr Oz Show and The Doctors draw 2.9 million and 2.3 million viewers per day, respectively;7 and

WHEREAS, a study published in the BMJ found that for 80 randomly selected recommendations made in The Dr Oz Show in 2013, only 46% were supported by evidence, 15% were contradicted by evidence, and evidence was not found for 39%; similarly, 80 randomly selected recommendations made in The Doctors in 2013, evidence supported 63%, contradicted 14%, and was not found for 24%;7 and

WHEREAS, it has been shown that only 0.4% of recommendations on The Dr Oz Show and The Doctors were accompanied by disclosure of potential conflicts of interest;7 and

WHEREAS, A physician is bound by the profession’s code of ethics to “participate in activities contributing to the improvement of the community and the betterment of public health”, a responsibility which encompasses the provision of accurate and relevant information;8 and

WHEREAS, A board-certified physician releasing inaccurate medical information is in violation of professional ethics, including but not limited to the oath to do no harm;8 and

WHEREAS, The AMA finds incompetence, corruption, or dishonest or unethical conduct by medical professionals “reprehensible” and has created a system by which individuals can report misconduct to the AMA and other medical societies for disciplinary measures;9 and

WHEREAS, In the case of Andrew Wakefield’s inaccurate and unscientific study linking vaccines with autism, the medical community responded by publicly retracting the relevant published article and banned Wakefield from further practice, setting a public precedent for self-policing within the medical community;10,11 and

WHEREAS, The AMA has policy which supports the provision of accurate medical information and authentication of medical credentials (E-5.04, H-445.997), active physician participation in the prevention of medical misinformation (H-225.994), proactive responses to misleading media releases (H-445.995), standards of conduct for social media (E-9.124), general public health, and the protection of public confidence in the medical profession; therefore be it

RESOLVED, That the AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs report on the professional and ethical obligations for physicians in the media, including guidelines for the endorsement and dissemination of general medical information and advice via television, radio, internet, print media, or other forms of mass audio or video communication; and be it further

RESOLVED, That our AMA release a statement affirming the professional and ethical obligation of physicians in the media to provide quality medical advice supported by evidence-based principles and transparent to any conflicts of interest, while denouncing the dissemination of dubious or inappropriate medical information through the public media including television, radio, internet, and print media; and be it further

RESOLVED, That our AMA study existing and potential disciplinary pathways for physicians who violate ethical responsibilities through their communication on a media platform.


April 19, 2015 | Benjamin Mazer