Mid-Atlantic Health Law TOPICS

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Social Media & the Medical Doctor - Winter 2012


Doctors should adhere to certain rules when posting online, and the American Medical Association's 2011 Policy "Professionalism in the use of Social Media" provides helpful guidance in that regard. The Policy advises physicians to weigh the following fundamental considerations when maintaining an online presence.

1. Be aware of patient privacy and confidentiality standards required for all environments. Do not post identifiable patient information online.

2. Use privacy settings to safeguard personal information as much as possible, but do not rely upon them. There is no delete button; once content is posted online it is there forever.

3. Monitor your own internet presence to ensure content is accurate and appropriate. Online actions may not only adversely affect a physician's reputation and medical career, but also undermine public trust in the medical profession.

4. Professional ethical guidelines apply to internet interactions between physicians and patients to the same extent as in any other context. Appropriate boundaries must be maintained. The simplest way for physicians to maintain those professional boundaries is to maintain separate personal and professional content online.

5. Physicians have a responsibility to bring inappropriate or unprofessional content posted by colleagues to their attention so that it may be removed. Interestingly, if the content/behavior significantly violates professional norms, and the individual posting the content does nothing to resolve the situation, physicians are advised to report the matter to appropriate authorities.

In addition, photos of patients should not be posted - even if an individual patient may appear to have consented.

As noted previously, there is social connecting and professional connecting. And, as the song goes, "ne'er the twain shall meet." You should keep your professional and personal pages separate. You should also use privacy settings to block your personal site from patients and colleagues. Further, you should revisit the privacy settings frequently, because functionality, features and policies change, requiring readjustment on your part.

You should also remember that your reputation is all you have. Dissemination on the internet is uncontrollable and exponential. What took decades to build can be destroyed by a single event or comment. Also, your pages are discoverable, so be careful not to post anything that could hurt your position if you are involved in litigation.

One last takeaway - despite all the issues and concerns, the best things about social media are also the ones that make it so damaging - its unbelievable reach, at lightening speeds - and it's FREE! So be aware of the issues, but do not let them keep you from participating in the conversation.