Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the Florida legislature to pass the Free Speech of Health Care Practitioners Act on March 3, according to a news release. Flaws in DeSantis’ news release, and the proposed act itself, makes it evident the governor acts on legislation to expand freedoms without considering the consequences.
The bill died in the Senate and House on March 14, and its lack of advancement in the Florida legislature is a positive result for those in the health care field.
The act, a combination of House Bill 687 and Senate Bill 1184, would have made it more difficult for health care workers to lose their licenses and certificates for their outspoken opinions. Any health care provider who offers medical advice outside of the practitioner-patient relationship would be protected by this act.
“A board … may not reprimand, sanction or revoke or threaten to revoke a license, certificate or registration of a health care practitioner for exercising his or her constitutional right of free speech, including, but not limited to, speech through the use of a social media platform,” SB 1184 said.
Medical professionals already have the right to speak freely, but they practice in an evidence-based field which allows for the publication of evidence-based findings. By blindly taking steps to protect free speech in health care, the necessity for evidence in promoting science will be overlooked.
A medical professional does not need a “practitioner-patient relationship” to cause harm. With certification and licensure comes responsibility, and people look up to medical professionals for guidance during a health care crisis.
By allowing doctors and nurses to spew misinformation that causes harm to people outside of the practitioner-patient relationship, this bill affects the very people that health professionals should seek to protect.
Since the pandemic response has become a partisan issue, health care providers have been able to act as political agents rather than neutral scientists. Florida’s surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, has publicly stated that masks do not save lives.
This contradicts data like that gathered by Stanford and Yale university in a 2021 randomized trial. It was found that the distribution of surgical masks resulted in a 12% reduction of infection to COVID-19.
It is the certification boards’ role to hold health care professionals accountable for the health advice they offer to the public. While physicians have free speech, they do not have the right to use their title to interject misinformation into public conversation.
The March 3 news release furthers its support of this bill by quoting Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis as he explained why a new bill should be passed to protect medical practitioners’ free speech.
“For our country to succeed we need more ideas, not less,” Patronis said.
Allowing the promotion of non-factual ideas does not lead to success, it leads to a misinformed audience.
To fight misinformation, give the certification boards the freedom to choose whether its certified members are promoting good health.