MedPod Today: The Medical Misinformation Mess

— Three MedPage Today reporters discuss recent cases of doctors spreading fake news


The following is a transcript of the podcast episode:

Rachael Robertson: Hey listeners -- this is Rachael Robertson, a reporter with MedPage Today. I'm popping in to let you know that we're launching something new on our podcast feed. Today, we're bringing you the first ever episode of our new podcast series: MedPod Today.

A couple of times a month, MedPage Today reporters will dive deeper into some of our particularly intriguing healthcare stories. We'll also be talking with experts in the field, sharing content from social media, and bringing you some conversations with our editor-in-chief, Dr. Jeremy Faust.

You can still expect typical episodes of our medical storytelling series Anamnesis, hosted by Dr. Amy Ho, in your feed. In fact, the next episode will be out next month! In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this new series, too.

Now onto the show.

Hey everybody. Welcome to the inaugural episode of MedPod Today, the podcast series where MedPage Today reporters share deeper insight into the week's biggest healthcare stories. I'm Rachael Robertson, your host for today.

Our first episode is all about misinformation. We're talking with Kristina Fiore about doctors who are suing the Washington Medical Commission over their COVID misinformation position statement. Plus, Michael DePeau-Wilson tells us about three doctors accused of spreading information. They recently faced sanctions from medical organizations. Then I share some of my reporting on a small number of doctors posting COVID-19 misinformation online.

There's been a lot going on over the last couple of weeks regarding misinformation and disciplinary bodies taking action against doctors who are accused of spreading it. Four doctors are suing the Washington agency that licenses physicians. They're challenging its misinformation policy. Three of those doctors are facing disciplinary action related to their alleged care for COVID patients with unproven treatments and "false-and-misleading statements" about the pandemic. MedPage Today reporter Kristina Fiore is here to talk about it.

Okay Kristina, so who are those physicians?

Kristina Fiore: Hey Rachael. The three doctors who hold active licenses in Washington but who are facing disciplinary action are Michael Turner, Richard Wilkinson, and Ryan Cole. The other plaintiff is Renata Moon who gave up her Washington medical license earlier this year. The medical board allegations include things like prescribing ivermectin to a high-risk patient who later died, and making "false-and-misleading statements" on a website or during public presentations.

Robertson: What are they alleging in their lawsuit?

Fiore: The suit was filed on their behalf by an organization called the Silent Majority Foundation. It alleges that the medical commission is using its misinformation policy statement as "an enforceable rule" although it was not adopted with the procedures for such a rule. So essentially Pete Serrano, general counsel at Silent Majority Foundation, said the commission adopted a standard of care without proper implementation.

Robertson: What outcome are they hoping for?

Fiore: The doctors are asking that the court stay all of the medical board's charges against them related to the enforcement of its misinformation policy. They also want Moon's license to be reinstated. And they want a declaratory judgment against the board's misinformation policy. So, there is reportedly a hearing this week and we will be keeping an eye on it.

Robertson: Thanks, Kristina.

Fiore: Thanks so much.

Robertson: The American Board of Internal Medicine, which is the credentialing organization that provides certification to internal medicine doctors, also made waves this week. The board's committee that handles credentialing and certification recommended that two prominent anti-vax physicians, Paul Marik, MD, and Pierre Kory, MD, have their board certifications revoked. Michael DePeau-Wilson is here to tell us more about what's happening.

Can you give us a little background on these doctors, Michael?

Michael DePeau-Wilson: Of course, so Marik and Kory have been especially vocal proponents of anti-vaccine views and alternative treatments for COVID-19, including the use of ivermectin. They are also the founders of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, which is a non-profit that promotes many of those same views AND promotes its concerns about excessive vaccine-related injuries linked to COVID-19 vaccines.

This group made headlines early in the pandemic by publishing a meta-analysis on effectiveness of ivermectin, which Marik and Kory co-authored.

And Kory later testified in front of Congress about the group protocol to treat COVID-19, which featured ivermectin as well.

Robertson: And why did the committee recommend this action now, then?

DePeau-Wilson: The committee reportedly recommended this action because Marik and Kory were spreading "false or inaccurate medical information." This is according to the physicians as the board has not released information about the decision publicly, yet.

But Kory and Marik have made a routine out of complaining in a very visible way, especially on social media, when they are the target of disciplinary actions. One example of this was when Marik sued the hospital where he was practicing during the pandemic over a dispute related to his views on ivermectin.

I do want to highlight the fact that this was only a recommendation by the committee and that Marik and Kory will have the opportunity to appeal the decision, which they already have said they plan to do.

Robertson: So this week there was another story about yet a different doctor accused of widely spreading misinformation too, right?

DePeau-Wilson: Yes, we also found out that Sherri Tenpenny, DO, was fined $3,000 and had her license suspended indefinitely for refusing to cooperate with the State Medical Board of Ohio's investigation into her practices around COVID-19 treatments AND comments she made about the COVID-19 vaccines. Now one of those comments -- somewhat infamously -- was that the vaccines could cause people to become magnetized or connect in some way with 5G cell towers.

As for what led to this suspension, the Ohio board received around 350 complaints about her actions and comments which spurred a board investigation into Tenpenny in July 2021, but she reportedly never made any effort to work with the investigators and refused to answer their questions. After more than a year of back and forth, the board issued a citation and scheduled an administrative hearing for this past April.

The board ultimately decided that Tenpenny "did not simply fail to cooperate with a Board investigation -- she refused to cooperate." They said that she did not have a sufficient reason to not cooperate, so they decided to suspend her license. She reportedly could have her license reinstated if she follows the board's requirements, which include paying the fine and cooperating with the original investigation.

Now we also just learned that Meryl Nass, MD, who is an internist based in Maine, has filed a complaint in U.S. District Court there against the Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine. Meryl's license was suspended in January 2022 for prescribing ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. She is now claiming that the board's disciplinary action denied her HER first amendment rights. And we'll have more information about that story on the site as well.

Robertson: Thanks so much, Michael.

DePeau-Wilson: Thank you, Rachael. And now it's my turn to ask you a few questions, I believe.

This week you wrote a story about new research published in JAMA Network Open. The study authors did structured searches of social media posts from January 2021 and May 2022. They characterized the types of COVID-19 misinformation online and who was disseminating it. Ultimately, they found that just 52 doctors were at the root of COVID-19 misinformation.

So Rachael, what do we know about these doctors posting misinformation?

Robertson: We know that these 52 doctors represented 28 different medical specialties and they lived and practiced in 29 different states.

We also know that 16 of those doctors are associated with groups notorious for spreading misinformation. The paper mentions America's Frontline Doctors specifically, which the authors note has a high volume of COVID misinformation on their social media pages.

DePeau-Wilson: What kinds of things are these doctors saying?

Robertson: The most common theme in the different posts was discouraging people from getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Other themes among the posts included unapproved medications and treatments, like ivermectin. They also made posts disputing the effectiveness of wearing masks, they spewed conspiracy theories, otherwise posted misinformation.

Plus, three-quarters of the identified physicians posted about misinformation in more than one of those categories, so a lot of overlap.

DePeau-Wilson: What are some of the implications of this research?

Robertson: One of the independent experts I spoke to, Nick Sawyer, MD, MBA, he's an emergency physician in Sacramento, California, said the study findings were "pretty damning," especially to medical specialty societies, board-certifying bodies, and state medical boards, and federal agencies with jurisdiction over these doctors.

He encouraged people who read the study to ask: "why were these specific individuals not stopped at the very beginning?"

The other independent expert I spoke to said the results are a call to action.

The study authors echoed that sentiment, too. They called for "a coordinated response by federal and state governments and the profession that takes free speech carefully into account"

DePeau-Wilson: Thank you so much, Rachael.

Robertson: And that's it for today. If you like what you heard, leave us a review wherever you listen to podcasts and hit subscribe if you haven't already. See you again soon.

This episode was hosted by Rachael Robertson. It was produced by Rachael Robertson and Greg Laub. Our guests were MedPage Today reporters Kristina Fiore, Michael DePeau-Wilson, and Rachael Robertson. Additional reporting by Jennifer Henderson.

MedPod Today is a production of MedPage Today. For more information about the show, check out