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ABEM: EPs Who Spread Misinformation Could Face Loss of Board Certification

SoRelle, Ruth MPH

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000815500.93060.e7
    FU1-1
    ABEM, misinformation, COVID-19:
    This blurry FBI photo was used to identify emergency physician Simone Gold, MD, speaking during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

    A group of white-coated physicians calling themselves “America's Frontline Doctors” lined up on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to talk about COVID-19 and hydroxychloroquine on July 27, 2020. Their leader, Simone Gold, MD, JD, said, “If you've gotten the disease, there's treatment.”

    At that time, there was no proven treatment for the virus.

    Dr. Gold, an emergency physician, was board certified from Nov. 15, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2020. She has not met the current requirements for maintenance of certification, according to American Board of Emergency Medicine records. She warned that physicians who knew about the treatment (described by her colleagues as hydroxychloroquine and two other common medications) were being silenced. Dr. Gold was later arrested at her Beverly Hills, CA, home on Jan. 18, 2021, in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. She was indicted Feb. 5. (Department of Justice. https://bit.ly/3nYapgu.) She pleaded not guilty to counts of entering a restricted building, violent entry, and disorderly conduct, and was released on her own recognizance.

    Parallel pandemics have bedeviled the United States since the first cases of COVID-19 were recognized. As cases and deaths surged, so did the misinformation, and those false statements gained credibility when they came from physicians.

    The American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM) issued a statement Aug. 26, 2021, to counter that, warning physicians it certified that spreading misinformation violated ABEM's Code of Professionalism that requires physicians to “refrain from conduct the Board determines, in its sole judgment, to be sufficiently egregious that it is inconsistent with the ethical behavior by a physician.”

    A Professionalism Issue

    “There was no single event that prompted the release of the statement,” said Marianne Gausche-Hill, MD, the president of ABEM, the medical director of the Los Angeles County EMS Agency, and a professor of clinical emergency medicine and pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles. “There were several incidents where physicians, leveraging their Board certification status, said somewhat outlandish things to the public, such as masks create dangerously high levels of carbon dioxide and that mRNA vaccines can alter DNA.”

    ABEM posted its newly developed Code of Professionalism in April 2021. (https://bit.ly/2ZXMp5p.) “It became clear on social media that other physicians found misinformation to be a professionalism issue,” she said, adding that ABEM's statement clarified how egregious information could violate that code. She said ABEM would not publicly comment on any physician under review for a potential violation of misinformation.

    “Several physicians and several members of the public have complained about unprofessional behavior, including misinformation. ABEM also monitors social media platforms, and is aware of concerns that physicians have expressed about misinformation,” she said. “ABEM reviews concerns using a deliberate process that involves assessment by clinically active emergency physicians,” adding that ABEM could withdraw certification “in situations where a physician promulgates egregious and blatantly false information that degrades the social contract that emergency medicine has with the public and damages the value of ABEM certification.”

    Such withdrawal would include due process for the board and physicians, including the ability to appear, she said. “ABEM is prepared to defend the strength and integrity of ABEM certification,” Dr. Gausche-Hill said.

    ‘Stinging Rebuke’

    Joel M. Geiderman, MD, a chair of the emergency department of Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, agreed with the ABEM statements. “Emergency physicians have become trusted by the public because of the hard work of a lot of people over a long period of time,” he said. “This trust is important so that people will put their welfare in the hands of people they do not know. ... [W]hen it comes to medicine, it is not about beliefs, it is about what science shows us through the scientific method and statistical analysis, i.e., evidence. Progress against the pandemic seems to have stalled, and I think those who spread misinformation contribute to this.”

    Dr. Geiderman said patients who balk at vaccination often depend on false information. “We should try to correct that but not be coercive,” he said. “Spreading information that is unproven or denying vaccines and masking and other proven measures hardly promotes quality and integrity. Loss of certification is certainly an appropriate first step in curbing irresponsible physician behavior.”

    The American Board of Medical Specialties supported ABEM and other organizations in opposing COVID misinformation in the media and online. (Sept. 13. 2021; https://bit.ly/3jYF5NJ.) Other groups also issued statements about the harmful effects of misinformation, including the Federation of State Medical Boards, which warned that promoting misinformation could put a physician's license at risk (https://bit.ly/3GHP5ER), said the American Board of Pathology (Sept. 3, 2021; https://bit.ly/3wkDAyf), and the American Boards of Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics in a joint statement. (Sept. 9, 2021; https://bit.ly/3BOLf9m.)

    The American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine also issued a stinging rebuke to two emergency physicians who extrapolated their clinics' experiences with COVID to minimize the effect of the pandemic. (April 27, 2020; https://bit.ly/3bINwYI.) They “jointly and emphatically condemn[ed] the recent opinions released by Dr. Daniel Erickson and Dr. Artin Massihi. These reckless and untested musings do not speak for medical society and are inconsistent with current science and epidemiology regarding COVID-19. As owners of local urgent care clinics, it appears these two individuals are releasing biased, non-peer-reviewed data to advance their personal financial interests without regard for the public's health.”

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    Ms. SoRellehas been a medical and science writer for more than 40 years, previously at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, The Houston Chronicle, and Baylor College of Medicine. She has received more than 60 awards, including the Texas Human Rights Foundation Award. She has been a contributor to EMN for more than 20 years.

    Copyright © 2022 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.
    • smithash23rd5:30:34 PMAnother shill. What a joke.
    • rstricker12:34:27 AMIf only the country had listened to Dr. Gold on July 27, 2020, we would be out of this mess by now.
    • toppindb7:08:09 PMRecent history will show you what happens when physicians become agents of the government: The Hippocratic oath out the window along with patient care. Does bullying this person out of caring for patients serve anyone other than the reputation of your organization in the eyes of the government? Patients don't care about certification when they need help. This is another poorly done hitpiece on someone looking out for you and the patients using the typical appeals to authority (all the other boards are doing it, the "science" is incontrovertible, and "misinformation" is judged as so by a handful of bureaucrats). Sadly ABEM is hypnotized by the need to look good in the eyes of the government and stakeholders. Wait about a year when this all turns around. Get a bunch of paper towels to wipe the egg off your face, and lawyer up for a class action suit.
    • vermillionmd110:38:37 AMI thought the purpose of science is to question everything. There is a marked differences of opinion on treatments from many countries (many not controlled by big pharma). We must be able to question all findings and look at methods/exclusions to be certain the data are authentic and represent our patient population group. Censoring or removing certification is bullying at the highest level. We are physicians/scientists looking for the best care of our patients.
    • mukvanlam6:34:04 PMTo become the arbiter of what is or is not correct information? This early on? That's ABEM's role? You better lawyer up before you try pulling anyone's cert, especially because you are the spokesperson (or rather lightning rod) for this thing. Dr. Marianne Gausche-Hill will be personally sued. The hubris to even consider taking away somebody's livelihood over exercising a constitutional right. I remember reading about Dr. Semmelweis. His crime of misinformation was that you should wash your hands after dissecting cadavers. He was mocked and cancelled by the elite of his time. Or how about those quacks who recommended closing the uterus after a Cesarean? Out with them. Or the ignoramuses who stopped giving oxygen to MI patients? Be gone. Oh, and those who said smoking was bad. I hope I don't get in trouble for thinking of obesity as a risk factor for pretty much everything. Are you going to police my thoughts next?
    • charlesakin7:13:47 PM<div>Yes, Dr. Simone Gold and a group of white-coated physicians known as America’s Frontline Doctors, along with many other physicians, were indeed advocating the use of hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of early COVID-19 illness as early as March 2020. As you say, at that time there was no proven treatment for the virus, but there were small studies from South Korea and France showing some benefit. By the time America’s Front Line Doctors went before the public on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on July 27, 2020, the Henry Ford COVID-19 task force had published its findings that the use of hydroxychloroquine was associated with reduction in COVID-19 associated mortality. Remember, this was a time when we had very little to offer patients, and the virus was giving us hell. We couldn’t wait for prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled trials. As late as January 2021, the American Journal of Medicine was recommending hydroxychloroquine in the early outpatient treatment of COVID-19 illness. We had nothing to lose by trying. Doctors on the front line understand this concept. You&#160;humiliated her by informing the readers of her Jan. 18, 2021, arrest in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection. This was an arrest carried out by tactically geared up FBI who pushed their way into her home and then took her and her boyfriend away to be jailed. Her crime was that she had exercised her constitutional right to peaceably protest the unconstitutional, lawless, chaotic, and fraudulent 2020 election. </div><div><br></div>
    • chivosky11:45:13 AMWell, well, well insurrectionists among us! Who would have thought?
    • enazziola9:56:04 AMCensorship and punishment for dissenting free speech and scientific debate in the name of &quot;stopping misinformation for the greater good&quot; is the road to Marxism and totalitarianism. This is not how we were trained in medical school or residency. Is anyone allowed to have a difference of medical opinion? What happens if someone accidentally uses the wrong word or quotes the wrong number when speaking with patients? Will ABEM be sending out observers to watch how we practice? This is a very scary time for emergency medicine and our nation.