PHYSICIANS should exercise caution before ‘posting’ and ‘friending’ in online social media forums.
The position paper, released by the American College of Physicians (ACP) and Federation of State Medical Boards, examines the influence of social media on the physician-patient relationship and its professional implications for physicians.
The paper provides strategies for communication that preserve patient confidentiality and privacy, and proposes New Social Media Guidelines for physicians.
There are legitimate ways for physicians to engage in social media with patients. It suggests that social media may be useful for disseminating information on public health issues or vaccines.
But the paper warns that the type of information released can pose a professional and ethical risk.
The issue of confidentiality is raised as a challenge for physicians using social media where posts can be widely read and distributed.
The recommendations suggest that physicians:
- Consistently apply ethical principles to preserve patient trust
- Respect patient confidentiality and privacy in online settings
- Keep their professional and social spheres separate and conduct themselves professionally in both
- Only use electronic forms of communication where there is an established physician-patient relationship – ensure there is patient consent
- Schedule an appointment if newly approached for advice on social media
- Always record patient care communication in a patient’s medical record
- Periodically ‘self-audit’ the accuracy of information available about themselves online, and ensure the information patients might access is accurate
- Avoid text messaging for medical communication with patients
Physicians are encouraged to take a proactive approach to managing their professional and personal relationship with these new technologies.