Social Media and Medical Professionals:Day 2(A 2 days series)

31 March, 2018

While engaging in social media, it is recommended that physicians:
  • Comply with all legal and professional obligations to maintain patient privacy and confidentiality
  • Maintain appropriate professional boundaries with patients and those close to them
  • Maintain professional and respectful relationships with patients, colleagues, and other members of the health-care team
  • Comply with relevant legislation with respect to physician advertising
  • Comply with the law related to defamation, copyright, and plagiarism when posting content online
  • Avoid conflicts of interest

The following guidelines are recommended for physicians who use social media and social networking in their personal and professional lives.

Interacting with Patients

  • Physicians are discouraged from interacting with current or past patients on personal social networking sites such as Facebook
  • They should only have online interaction with patients when discussing the patient’s medical treatment within the physician-patient relationship, and these interactions should never occur on personal social networking or social media websites
  • In addition, physicians need to be mindful that while advanced technologies may facilitate the physician-patient relationship, they can also be a distracter which may lessen the quality of the interactions they have with patients. Such distractions should be minimized whenever possible

Discussion of Medicine Online

  • Social networking websites may be useful places for physicians to gather and share their experiences, as well as to discuss areas of medicine and particular treatments. These types of professional interactions with other physicians represent an ancillary and convenient means for peer-to-peer education and dialogue
  • While such networks may be useful, it is the responsibility of the physician to ensure, to the best of his or her ability, that professional networks for physicians are secure and that only verified and registered users have access to the information
  • These websites should be password protected so that non-physicians do not gain access and view discussions as implying medical advice, which may be counter to the physicians’ intent in such discussions
  • Physicians should also confirm that any medical information from an online discussion that they plan to incorporate into their medical practice is corroborated and supported by current medical research


  • Just as in the hospital or ambulatory setting, patient privacy and confidentiality must be protected at all times, especially on social media and social networking websites. These sites have the potential to be viewed by many people and any breaches in confidentiality could be harmful to the patient and in violation of the prevailing laws of the country
  • While physicians may discuss their experiences in nonclinical settings, they should never provide any information that could be used to identify patients. Physicians should never mention patients’ room numbers, refer to them by code names, or post their picture


  • At times, physicians may be asked or may choose to write online about their experiences as a health professional, or they may post comments on a website as a physician. When doing so, physicians must reveal any existing conflicts of interest and they should be honest about their credentials as a physician.

Posting Content

  • Physicians should be aware that any information they post on a social networking site may be disseminated (whether intended or not) to a larger audience, and that what they say may be taken out of context or remain publicly available online in perpetuity
  • When posting content online, they should always remember that they are representing the medical community. Physicians should always act professionally and take caution not to post information that is ambiguous or that could be misconstrued or taken out of context
  • When moderating any website, physicians should delete inaccurate information or other’s posts that violate the privacy and confidentiality of patients or that are of an unprofessional nature


To use social media and social networking sites professionally, physicians should also strive to adhere to the following general suggestions:

  • Use separate personal and professional social networking sites. For example, use a personal rather than professional e-mail address for logging on to social networking websites for personal use. Others who view a professional e-mail attached to an online profile may misinterpret the physician’s actions as representing the medical profession or a particular institution.
  • Report any unprofessional behaviour that is witnessed to supervisory and/or regulatory authorities
  • Always adhere to the same principles of professionalism online as they would offline
  • Cyber-bullying by a physician towards any individual is inappropriate and unprofessional
  • Refer, as appropriate, to an employer’s social media or social networking policy for direction on the proper use of social media and social networking in relation to their employment

State medical boards have the authority to discipline physicians for unprofessional behaviour relating to the inappropriate use of social networking media, such as:
  • Inappropriate communication with patients online
  • Use of the Internet for unprofessional behaviour
  • Online misrepresentation of credentials
  • Online violations of patient confidentiality
  • Failure to reveal conflicts of interest online
  • Online derogatory remarks regarding a patient
  • Online depiction of intoxication
  • Discriminatory language or practices online State medical boards have the option to discipline physicians for inappropriate or unprofessional conduct while using social media or social networking websites with actions that range from a letter of reprimand to the revocation of a license

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