Appropriate use of social media and social networking in medical practice

The Federation of State Medical Boards has released Model Policy Guidelines for the Appropriate Use of Social Media and Social Networking in Medical Practice. It addressed the physician-patient relationship, professional and ethical standards and provides recommendations for state medical boards to consider in educating their licensees on the proper use of social media and social networking websites.

The following recommendations are also included:

  • Physicians 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.
  • Patient privacy and confidentiality must be protected at all times, especially on social media and social networking websites. Although physicians may discuss their experiences in non-clinical settings, they should never provide any information that could be used to identify patients.
  • Physicians should be aware that any information they post on a social networking site may be disseminated to a larger audience, and that what they say may be taken out of context or remain publicly available online in perpetuity.

One study in JAMA found that 92 percent of state medical boards in the United States have received reports of violations of online professionalism, so this guidance is really a bit overdue. But, I'm glad both the boards and licensed physicians now have some clearly defined expectations and guidelines for moving forward.

Christina Thielst is a hospital and healthcare administrator who has been blogging since 2005. Topics covered on her blog, Christina's Considerations, include hospitals, health information technology and exchange, social media, and telehealth.

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