The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) has released a policy brief that says nurses may be disciplined by their state licensing boards if they spread COVID-19 misinformation online, including on social media. Nurses are known for using public platforms to voice their opinions and experiences, but their words have real-life consequences.
What’s in the Brief?
Misinformation has become a serious problem throughout the pandemic. Everyone is entitled to free speech, but licensed healthcare providers have a duty to use their standing in the community to support public health.
Several providers have seen their licenses revoked for spreading misinformation online, while others were able to renew their licenses with the click of a button.
To clarify the issue, the NCSBN has put out clear guidelines regarding COVID-19 misinformation that nursing boards can use to decide whether providers should have their licenses revoked.
The brief says that nurses are expected to be “prepared to practice from an evidence base; promote safe, quality patient care; use clinical/critical reasoning to address simple to complex situations; assume accountability for one’s own and delegated nursing care”.
The agency says promoting misinformation about the virus threatens public health by further spreading the disease and prolonging the pandemic.
“It is an expectation of the U.S. boards of nursing, the profession, and the public that nurses uphold the truth, the principles of the Code of Ethics for Nurses (ANA, 2015) and highest scientific standards when disseminating information about COVID-19 or any other health-related condition or situation.”
It goes on to say that nurses may be held liable for spreading misinformation if they identify themselves as a healthcare provider, which can give clout to their message.
“When identifying themselves by their profession, nurses are professionally accountable for the information they provide to the public. Any nurse who violates their state nurse practice act or threatens the health and safety of the public through the dissemination of misleading or incorrect information pertaining to COVID-19, vaccines, and associated treatment through verbal or written methods including social media may be disciplined by their board of nursing.”
The brief was endorsed by some of leading nursing organizations in the country, including the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and American Nurses Association (ANA).
The news has already caused a stir on social media. A TikToker that goes by @nurse_toughlove recently put out a video saying she plans on reporting nurses that spread misinformation to their local nursing boards.
Others may do the same. If providers are caught spreading misinformation online, their followers may report them to their local nursing board.
Nurses need to know the risk of posting misinformation online.
As the brief notes, “Nurses are urged to recognize that dissemination of misinformation not only jeopardizes the health and well-being of the public, but may place their license and career in jeopardy as well.”
Nathan Coy was fired from his position at Baptist Health in Montgomery, AL for posting videos on TikTok that featured COVID-19 misinformation, including one where he says the disease isn’t that dangerous and another where he alleges that Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was paid to create the virus.
In some of his videos, he can be seen wearing scrubs. In others, he appears in a hospital room wearing an ID badge. His account, @conservativecoy1776, has since been deleted.
Earlier this week, Houston Methodist suspended hospital privileges for Dr. Mary Bowen, an ear, throat, and nose specialist, for spreading “dangerous misinformation” about COVID-19 online.
Bowen was a recent hire, according to hospital records. She posted several times on Twitter that she is against vaccine mandates. She also used the platform to tout ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19, even though the FDA hasn’t approved the anti-parasitic drug for treating the disease and health officials are warning the public not to use it as a coronavirus treatment.
Patti Muck, a spokesperson for Houston Methodist, told reporters that Bowden’s “privileges at Houston Methodist have been suspended”.
However, Bowen’s lawyer, Steve Mitby, defended her actions. He told the press that she believes in vaccines and has treated 2,000 COVID-19 patients.
“Like many Americans, Dr Bowden believes that people should have a choice and believes that all people, regardless of vaccine status, should have access to the same high-quality healthcare,” Mitby said. He added that Bowen is vaccinated in compliance with the hospital’s vaccine policy.
Watch what you say when talking about COVID-19, the pandemic, and vaccines online. It just may cost you your job.