Last month, Dr Simone Gold stood in front of a crowd at a conservative church in Thousand Oaks, Calif., And gave a speech riddled with misinformation. She told people to avoid the coronavirus vaccination. As an alternative, she pushed for drugs that have not been shown to be effective in treating COVID-19 – drugs she also offered to prescribe to the public in exchange for a $ 90 telehealth appointment.
“Don’t text me when you test positive, I don’t want to hear it,” she told the assembly. “I told you in advance to get the drugs. It may take a week because we are so overwhelmed.
Almost everything Gold said in his 45-minute speech violated the best scientific and medical standards of care for the treatment of COVID-19. But there was one thing she said that was at least partially true: “I’m an emergency doctor.”
NPR found that Gold’s emergency medicine certification expired in December of last year, but she is still, as she claims, a licensed medical practitioner in the state of California (her license indicates her business address in as a UPS shipping store in Beverly Hills).
Despite more than a year spent spreading misinformation about a pandemic that has killed more than 650,000 Americans, she has what could be considered a professional health check-up, without any complaints, disciplinary action or malpractice lawsuit at his file. The California Medical Board, which oversees its licensing, told NPR it expects physicians “to follow the standard of care when treating patients at all times.” But the medical board declined to say whether it was investigating Gold, citing confidentiality concerns.
Gold is not the only doctor promoting disinformation while avoiding professional censorship. NPR has reviewed the medical licenses of 16 doctors, including Gold, who have been proven to work online and in media interviews. Fifteen of the 16 had active licenses in good standing. One of them appeared to have let his license expire, but nothing in his file indicated that it was due to disciplinary action.
Now, some medical license affiliates are pushing for action.
Late last month, the American Board of Emergency Medicine, which until this year had certified Gold under his maiden name, Tizes, issued a statement warning that it could revoke the certification of one of its specialists. for disseminating “inaccurate information”.
The Federation of State Medical Boards issued a statement in late July warning that “Doctors who generate and disseminate misinformation or misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine risk disciplinary action from state medical boards , including the suspension or revocation of their medical license ”.
Why professional censorship has fallen behind
So why haven’t more punitive measures already been taken? Basically, the problem is the fragmented medical licensing system in the United States. Individual states have licensing boards made up of a mix of doctors, lawyers, and private citizens. This advice, along with an eye for medical malpractice, usually only responds to complaints against individual doctors.
“People assume the licensing boards are on the prowl, they’re on the Internet,” says Dr Humayun Chaudhry, president of the Federation of State Medical Boards. “In fact, they don’t have the resources – neither the money nor the manpower – to monitor what’s going on on the internet or on social media.”
Left unchecked, doctors like Gold were able to spread disinformation with impunity. Imran Ahmed, managing director of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which tracks vaccine misinformation online, says that while the number of doctors involved in spreading this type of misinformation is tiny, they have a disproportionate influence. Other members of the anti-vaccine movement promote their messages “because they have ‘Dr’ in front of their name and they seem to understand what they are talking about.”
Ahmed says having a medical degree can also help these doctors get around social media bans on coronavirus misinformation. “We will find that social media companies will hide behind every possible excuse to leave out [posts from] these people are spreading misinformation, and one of the excuses they use is to quote their medical degrees, ”Ahmed said.
Some uninformed doctors received big megaphones
In fact, while other promoters of bad news have seen their Twitter profiles suspended this summer, Gold has seen its followers swell to over 300,000. And it’s not just happening through social media: the doctors who discourage the vaccination have found regular spots on conservative talk shows on radio and television and on cable networks. Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon is one of the most prominent promoters of the brand of fake news, who regularly interviews a small rotating group of such doctors on his talk show.
Misinformation – which typically involves inflating vaccine risks and offering the false promise of alternative therapies – comes as COVID-19 cases rise nationwide, mostly in areas with low vaccination rates. Other doctors working in these places are understandably frustrated.
“We would like there to be an easy answer, drugs that have been around forever that we could just take at home,” says Sonja Rasmussen, pediatrician and epidemiologist at the University of Florida at Gainesville. The problem, she says, is that, so far, alternative therapies, such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, have not been shown to be effective against COVID-19.
In fact, intensive care units are overflowing with sick and unvaccinated people
“There are outliers that preach nonsense,” says Dr. Kendall McKenzie, chair of the emergency medicine department at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jacksonville. As Gold lectured to a crowded audience, McKenzie dealt with crowded intensive care units filled with sick and unvaccinated people. He says he sees patients every day being influenced by the kind of misinformation Gold and others are promoting.
“What it does is fill my emergency department with intubated patients, and ultimately lead to deaths,” he says.
Chaudhry says there have been recent cases where disciplinary action has progressed. In May, the Oregon Medical Council suspended a doctor’s license for encouraging patients to be exposed, and the Hawaii Medical Council files a complaint against a state health official and doctor , both of which are said to promote alternative therapies for the treatment of COVID-19. – alternatives that federal agencies have specifically warned about are not helpful and can sometimes be harmful.
Chaudhry believes that many licensing boards may already be conducting additional confidential investigations against doctors promoting disinformation. These investigations, he adds, are usually only triggered by a complaint, but the complaint can come from anyone. “People don’t realize that it doesn’t have to be the patient himself. It can be a family member of a patient, it can be another doctor, ”he says.
Gold has new issues: She participated in the Jan.6 uprising on the U.S. Capitol and is now awaiting trial on criminal charges for forcibly infiltrating the building and behaving disorderly. She pleaded not guilty and, through her lawyer, denied NPR’s request for an interview.
While awaiting trial, Gold continues to lecture as a licensed physician.