116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES --- The state board that oversees physicians has received 17 complaints about doctors in Iowa spreading false or misleading information about COVID-19, an official said Friday.
Of those 17, five have been dismissed without the board taking disciplinary action, but 12 remain under investigation, according to Kent Nebel, executive director of the Iowa Board of Medicine.
That puts Iowa in the vast majority nationally: only roughly 1 in 5 state medical boards has taken disciplinary action against a licensee for disseminating false or misleading information about COVID-19, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards.
And just 1 in 4 state medical boards has published statements condemning the dissemination of false or misleading COVID-19 information, according to the national federation.
The complaints also put Iowa in line with disturbing national trends: two-thirds of state medical boards have experienced an increase in complaints relating to licensees disseminating false or misleading information, according to the national federation.
“The staggering number of state medical boards that have seen an increase in COVID-19 disinformation complaints is a sign of how widespread the issue has become,” Humayun J. Chaudhry, president and chief executive officer of the Federation of State Medical Boards, said in a statement. “We are encouraged by the number of boards that have already taken action to combat COVID-19 disinformation by disciplining physicians who engage in that behavior and by reminding all physicians that their words and actions matter, and they should think twice before spreading disinformation that may harm patients.”
Under Iowa law, all complaint and investigation information is considered confidential and is not available to patients, Nebel said. If any disciplinary action is taken, that would become public.
“The board evaluates each complaint on a case-by-case basis to determine whether a physician has engaged in conduct that may be harmful to patients or the public,” Nebel said.
In Iowa, 7,680 people have died from COVID-19 or related causes, according to state public health data. The state, like many other areas in the country, currently is experiencing another wave of infections, once again putting significant stress on hospitals. The 843 Iowans hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday is the most since late November 2020, in the heart of the worst of the pandemic.
In Iowa, 58.4 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to federal data. That’s the 25th-highest rate in the nation.
This summer, the Federation of State Medical Boards’ directors issued a statement responding to what it called “a dramatic increase in the dissemination of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and disinformation by physicians and other health care professionals on social media platforms, online and in the media.” The statement warned that such actions could result in disciplinary action, including the suspension or revocation of medical licenses.
“Due to their specialized knowledge and training, licensed physicians possess a high degree of public trust and therefore have a powerful platform in society, whether they recognize it or not. They also have an ethical and professional responsibility to practice medicine in the best interests of their patients and must share information that is factual, scientifically grounded and consensus-driven for the betterment of public health,” the statement said. “Spreading inaccurate COVID-19 vaccine information contradicts that responsibility, threatens to further erode public trust in the medical profession and puts all patients at risk.”