Prescription for Social: Group Issues Online Guidelines for Doctors
What information is OK for doctors to share on their personal blogs? When may doctors “friend” their patients on social media? These are some of the questions professional healthcare associations are trying to help physicians figure out.
As more and more doctors go mobile, professional healthcare associations are stepping in to help their members navigate the terrain of online communication and social networking.
Last week the American College of Physicians issued professional guidelines for physicians connecting with patients and each other via email, the web, or social media.
“As new technologies and practices, such as social networking, are embraced, it is paramount to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of patient information, demonstrate respect for patients, ensure trust in physicians and in the medical profession, and establish appropriate boundaries,” ACP stated in a position paper.
As part of the guidelines, the organization, along with the Federation of State Medical Boards, touched on issues such as when it is OK to “Google” a patient—for instance, to gather information on an unconscious patient in an emergency room. Checking on whether a patient is adhering to a healthy diet via a Google search for that person’s blog, however, is deemed a possible threat to the patient-doctor relationship.
The guidelines also address the potential benefits and drawbacks of
- emailing, texting, and instant-messaging with patients
- blogging by physicians
- posting personal information on social media
- using digital means to communicate with colleagues about patient care.
One healthcare association encouraging its members to go social is the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which dedicated a special issue of its newsletter to the subject last year.
“With the creation and proliferation of social media, ob-gyns now have the opportunity to continue to provide important women’s health messages to their patients throughout the year,” ACOG Executive Vice President Dr. Hal C. Lawrence III wrote in the newsletter. “But with this opportunity to educate comes an online responsibility to respect patient privacy, to not offer medical advice, and to always maintain your professionalism.”
The guide featured examples of how physicians are currently using social media successfully as well as potential liability issues doctors could face—by, for example, referencing cases, even without using specifics. One Rhode Island doctor was stripped of her hospital privileges after she mentioned a trauma case on her Facebook page.
“You have a professional image to maintain, so always consider the impact of what you’re posting,” Dr. Albert L. Strunk, ACOG deputy executive vice president, advised readers in an article.