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Jim Jones: Can Idaho doctors be disciplined for spreading COVID misinformation?
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Jim Jones

Jim Jones: Can Idaho doctors be disciplined for spreading COVID misinformation?

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Dr. Ryan Cole of Boise has been accused of spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, discouraging life-saving vaccinations and touting unproven remedies for the virus. Even though a number of complaints have been lodged against him on those grounds, the Idaho Medical Board (IMB) has taken the stance that disciplinary action is not available under its guiding statutes. Is there no remedy for broadcasting harmful medical advice on COVID?

The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) issued this statement on July 29: “Physicians who generate and spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation are risking disciplinary action by state medical boards, including the suspension or revocation of their medical license. 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. 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.” Amen!

The authoritative FSMB pronouncement does not necessarily apply in physician disciplinary proceedings in Idaho. Rather, the IMB applies statutory guidelines enacted by the Idaho Legislature. It appears to me, however, that the Board is reading its statute too narrowly. The Board seems to believe that discipline can only be meted out where a traditional doctor-patient relationship is involved. That is, where a patient goes to the doctor’s office for consultation and treatment. That is not how things always work in today’s world, with telemedicine and powerful social media.

Dr. Cole has broadcast his medical opinions and advice far and wide with the obvious intent of influencing the medical decisions of a vast audience. How can it be that a doctor can face license revocation for endangering the health or life of an individual traditional patient, while facing no discipline for misleading and risking the health of thousands of devoted followers?

Cole has described the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines as “fake” and made the bogus claim that the mRNA vaccines cause cancer and autoimmune diseases. He has peddled the false claim that thousands have died after getting vaccinated and falsely insinuated that a Boise surgeon died from being vaccinated. His recommended cure to the masses is to use unproven remedies, particularly Ivermectin which is widely used as a livestock dewormer. These contentions have been thoroughly debunked but that has not stopped Cole from spreading this dangerous misinformation. Adding to the problem, his message has been amplified by a variety of social media outlets. Many thousands have likely been influenced by Cole to avoid getting vaccinated against the virus or to treat it with unproven remedies, putting their very lives at risk.

On September 3, the Idaho Medical Association stated: “Dr. Cole has made numerous unfounded and dangerous claims about the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 that do not align with the Idaho standard of care.” The American Medical Association strongly opposes prescribing Ivermectin to treat COVID-19, except in a clinical trial.

IMB’s disciplinary statute allows it to take action against a licensed doctor who provides “health care which fails to meet the health care standard provided by other qualified physicians” in the community or who “promotes the sale of drugs...to a patient that are not...medically indicated.” Recommending to his many devoted followers that they refrain from getting life-saving shots but, rather, take unproven, ineffective remedies like the dewormer, would certainly seem to fit within these provisions. Cole reportedly admits to prescribing Ivermectin to 170 of his patients. The IMB should act to protect Idahoans. If it won’t, the other 10 states where Cole appears to be licensed (AZ, CA, MN, MT, NV, OR, UT, TX, WA and WY) could take disciplinary action that could then be reciprocated in the Gem State.

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran, who served 8 years as Idaho Attorney General (1983-1991) and 12 years as Idaho Supreme Court Justice (2005-2017). His columns can be found at JJCommonTater.com.

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