Podcast: episode 69

Aug 13, 2020

Addressing rogue doctors

Addressing rogue doctors Featuring Jeff Speer of Revive

Resources Misinformation Statement: Kati Everett, Chief Communications Officer at Novant Health Article: Cue the debunking: Two California doctors go viral with dubious COVID test conclusions  Article: Trump’s New Favorite COVID Doctor Believes in Alien DNA, Demon Sperm, and Hydroxychloroquine Article: An Elite Group Of Scientists Tried To Warn Trump Against Lockdowns In March Listen to…

Resources

  • Misinformation Statement: Kati Everett, Chief Communications Officer at Novant Health
  • Article: Cue the debunking: Two California doctors go viral with dubious COVID test conclusions 
  • Article: Trump’s New Favorite COVID Doctor Believes in Alien DNA, Demon Sperm, and Hydroxychloroquine
  • Article: An Elite Group Of Scientists Tried To Warn Trump Against Lockdowns In March
  • Listen to this episode on the go through our podcast

Takeaways

The situation: rogue docs

  • First, let’s define 
    • We’re not talking about physicians publicizing PPE shortages.
    • We’re not talking about the ED doctor suing for unreasonably lowering safety standards after being fired. 
    • Those are more on the labor side of issues management. 
  • A “rogue doctor” hits two kinds of extreme: 
    • They are someone who has an extreme or fringe health view. 
    • And they are someone who uses an extreme level of communication — such as press conferences on the steps of the Capitol.
    • Rouge doctors discredit the seriousness of COVID-19, talking about kids not being susceptible to it, disregarding masks, etc. 
  • This is a risk because these doctors carry your health system name and are stating things that are potential liabilities, and it puts your name on misinformation.

Public examples

  • The original rogue doctors – two urgent care doctors went viral in April with video on Facebook claiming pandemic is a political hoax and overblown. They received 4.3 million views on YouTube, and Elon Musk tweeted, “Docs make good points.”
  • The Houston doctor who said hydroxychloroquine is a cure and that you don’t need masks from the steps of Capitol.
  • A leading scientist from one of the top AMCs in the country rallied a group of peers to convince President Trump back in the spring that coronavirus was overblown, not enough of a threat, and to not lock down the U.S. — with no credible data.
  • Other examples we’re seeing: 
    • Rogue doctors are showing up at school board meetings advocating for reopening with fringe claims.
    • Rogue doctors are holding press conferences, sometimes from a hospital’s property.
    • Rogue doctors are on TV, social media, etc.

Addressing rogue doctors from a communications perspective

  • Do it in a way that you’re not taking on the physician, but the data and science — use a credible clinician like a Chief Medical Officer, infectious disease expert, or Chief Nursing Officer to deliver the message, not a CEO or communications member. 
  • There’s a continued obligation for systems to be the arbiters of truth — clinicians have had incredibly high trust scores during COVID-19. 
    • When public safety is involved, health systems have an obligation to use this trust clout to counter growing conversations related to misinformation or false viewpoints. 
    • Speaking out also doesn’t just have to be just when physicians are going rogue, it can be related to conversations happening within your communities about how schools should go back, mask wearing, etc.

Legal options

  • Depending on the situation, rogue doctors represent, at best, a headache for system leaders, and at worst, a real risk to their brand reputation. 
    • We spoke with Dan Higgins, partner at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, to identify what options systems might have to address physicians that exacerbate the spread of misinformation.
  • Except for when a health system directly employs physicians, there are limited recourse options, given physicians’ rights to share their medical opinion with patients and the public. 
    • However, if there is significant conversation surrounding a physician, a health system can counter a negative message with one of its own. 
    • Point to the facts and science in these situations, ideally leveraging the Chief Medical Officer for a doctor-to-doctor comparison to the public. 
    • If the affiliated physician uses a logo or the health system’s platform without permission, the health system can ask for the physician to retract its statement.
  • When an employed physician is involved, there are additional steps a health system can weigh. 
    • Health systems should consider proactively drafting a high-level policy focused on patient precautions for staying safe and well. 
    • The system can note that it wants to guide the strategy for the organization’s COVID-19 communications, and that while they respect the first amendment and the physician/patient relationship, no one except those authorized by the health system should speak on behalf of the health system in relation to COVID-19.
    • This restricts physicians from any use of the health system’s logo without consent. If there is any violation of this policy, the health system has the option to take employment action.

Leaders have a voice and have a responsibility

  • With all of this said, health systems are needed and expected to be the voice of truth — continuing to focus on the facts — even if that lands them in hot water with policymakers and community members. 
  • Given their position, health systems have a societal obligation to correct any misinformation that may be spreading in their communities.
  • Beware of the shaming and guilt language in your communications. Consumers are looking for us to be a stable, objective resource of facts and truth.