Leading Nurses Groups Unite to Combat COVID Misinformation

Roni Robbins

November 18, 2021

Eight leading nursing organizations responded this week to COVID-19 misinformation being spread by nurses about COVID-19.

Issuing a policy brief, the groups hope to help inform and educate boards of nursing, nurses, and the public about the need for healthcare professionals to uphold the highest standards of ethics when it comes to representing their profession.

"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; [and] assume accountability for one's own and delegated nursing care,' " the brief begins, quoting the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

The policy statement "elevates the message not only for nurses, but to the public to instill trust and to promote optimal public health," Liz Stokes, JD, RN, director of the American Nurses Association (ANA) Center for Ethics and Human Rights, told Medscape Medical News.

She is one of the experts behind the policy brief and the Code of Ethics for Nurses referred to in the brief, which was endorsed by ANA, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, and other national accreditation, nursing education, and nursing leadership groups.

Misinformation, the joint statement reads, "can lead to illness, possible death, and may prolong the pandemic. It is an expectation of the US 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.

"When identifying themselves by their profession, nurses are professionally accountable for the information they provide the public," the statement reads. Disseminating misleading or inaccurate information "not only jeopardizes the health and well-being of the public, but may place their license and career in jeopardy as well."

The policy brief explains that misinformation is defined as "distorted facts, inaccurate or misleading information not grounded in the peer-reviewed scientific literature and counter to information being disseminated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)."

Stokes said the misinformation spread about COVID-19 includes references to alternative therapies.  

Of the policy brief, she said, "It is a reminder to nurses to be thoughtful and intentional when they hold themselves out there as experts." They should also cite the most accurate scientific research on the subject, she added.

The ANA Center for Ethics and Human Rights has, for quite a while now, fielded questions and concerns from patients and family members of nurses — along with fellow nurses — about the spread of false COVID-19 information, Stokes noted.

Liz Stokes

"Nurses hold great power in their capacity as a trusted healthcare professional, and therefore the spread of misinformation can have a grave negative impact on the healthcare environment," Stokes said. The ripple effect is exacerbated "given the vast capabilities of television, print, and social media or the internet," she said. And the misinformation further damages a profession struggling with burnout, staffing shortages, conflicts with colleagues, and emotional and mental strain.

"It creates chaos and confusion among the public," she said. "It is an added layer of conflict, and an added level of complexity in a profession that has given so much in the last 2 years to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion." Instead of coming together as a profession, "misinformation hinders that collective approach."

The statement by the nurses groups came a day after the physician, resident, and medical student members of the American Medical Association's House of Delegates adopted a similar policy aimed at "combatting public health disinformation disseminated by healthcare professionals."

"Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, some healthcare professionals have deliberately made false claims about COVID-19 vaccines and how the virus is transmitted, peddled untested treatments and cures, and flouted public health efforts such as masking and vaccinations — posing serious health risks to patients and significantly damaging vaccine confidence across the country," the AMA policy statement reads.


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