BEIRUT: Within the next three weeks the Lebanese Order of Physicians plans to end a ban that has been in place since mid-June preventing doctors from conducting interviews with the media.
The blanket ban was issued following the detention of Dr. Musa Abu Hamad. The physician was detained after the death of a woman seven months pregnant and her unborn child in his care. His detention led to strikes held in solidarity with the detained doctor at a number of hospitals in Beirut.The treatment of the case by some areas of the press pushed the order to reevaluate its media strategy.
Speaking to The Daily Star at the time Sharaf Abu Sharaf, head of the Order, expressed incredulity at the detention and criticized some media outlets for jumping to conclusions about Abu Hamad without evidence.
“Doctors are important figures within society. When a doctor is speaking people take it as an ultimate truth.”
The organization had already been considering the creation of strategies to regulate the interaction of doctors with the media. In tune with these developments the prime-time MTV show “The Doctors”— in which a team of four Lebanese physicians with different specialties answer health questions presented by the public – was discontinued mid-June.
Currently no regulations are in place. According to Suzanne Heydamous, head of media relations at the Order, this has led to a number of blunders in which misinformation or expressions of personal opinion have appeared in print and a number of doctors have appeared to seek self-promotion on television.
“The situation was getting out of control,” says Heydamous, adding that a new strategy currently being developed by the Order will include the establishment of a system whereby doctors must submit interview requests to the head of their society and obtain approval before proceeding.
Further planned measures include the requirement for copies of interviews to be submitted to the Order before publication.
“If the doctor is a dermatologist he must seek approval from the head of the dermatology society, and etcetera, depending on the physician’s practicing discipline,” explains Heydamous. “The ban is necessary as there were examples of doctors spreading propaganda and seeking self-promotion on television in a way that contradicts the ethos of being a physician.”
Heydamous concedes that the planned regulations will somewhat stymie press requests for medical information due to the procedures doctors will have to follow to receive authorization. However she maintains that their introduction is imperative in order to maintain an ethical code that has been compromised by a lack of regulation.
“Doctors are important figures within society. When a doctor is speaking people take it as an ultimate truth,” says Heydamous. “It is fine for a doctor to publicly give advice for someone to stay at home and rest if they have a cold, however if a doctor starts expressing personal opinions about issues, say for example plastic surgery, then this is not good for the ethical code. ”
Heydamous says that a number of doctors have been disciplined for comments made on television shows and in print. Primarily a warning is issued, while repeat offenders face the penalty of having their medical license temporarily revoked. Heydamous says that such action has taken place on at least one occasion in the last couple of months.