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Friday, December 14, 2018

Why Health Professionals Should Speak Out Against False Beliefs on the Internet

Joel T. Wu and Jennifer B. McCormick
AMA J Ethics. 2018;20(11):E1052-1058.
doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2018.1052.

Abstract

Broad dissemination and consumption of false or misleading health information, amplified by the internet, poses risks to public health and problems for both the health care enterprise and the government. In this article, we review government power for, and constitutional limits on, regulating health-related speech, particularly on the internet. We suggest that government regulation can only partially address false or misleading health information dissemination. Drawing on the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics, we argue that health care professionals have responsibilities to convey truthful information to patients, peers, and communities. Finally, we suggest that all health care professionals have essential roles in helping patients and fellow citizens obtain reliable, evidence-based health information.

Here is an excerpt:

We would suggest that health care professionals have an ethical obligation to correct false or misleading health information, share truthful health information, and direct people to reliable sources of health information within their communities and spheres of influence. After all, health and well-being are values shared by almost everyone. Principle V of the AMA Principles of Ethics states: “A physician shall continue to study, apply, and advance scientific knowledge, maintain a commitment to medical education, make relevant information available to patients, colleagues, and the public, obtain consultation, and use the talents of other health professionals when indicated” (italics added). And Principle VII states: “A physician shall recognize a responsibility to participate in activities contributing to the improvement of the community and the betterment of public health” (italics added). Taken together, these principles articulate an ethical obligation to make relevant information available to the public to improve community and public health. In the modern information age, wherein the unconstrained and largely unregulated proliferation of false health information is enabled by the internet and medical knowledge is no longer privileged, these 2 principles have a special weight and relevance.
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