The popularity of social media has exploded in recent years with 31.24% of all web traffic now coming from social media platforms. According to the New York Times, in April of 2015, the leading social media platform is Facebook with an incredible 1.44 billion users.
This immense popularity offers medical professionals some exciting opportunities to improve their patient interaction and profile. Some of the most constructive ways in which physicians can utilize social media include:
- Better engagement with patients. Answering general questions, responding to feedback, and sharing useful medical resources
- Promoting medical services
- Building a stronger profile within the local community
- Spreading important information about medical conditions, new treatments, and research findings
However, you should also be aware of the potential hazards of using social media. Here are 5 things which doctors should never post to social media.
1. Inaccurate Medical Information: When using social media, there are dozens of medical headlines thrown at users each day. The related articles are often full of inaccuracies and distortions of medical research. Medical professionals should avoid republishing, sharing, “liking,” or “retweeting” news stories about medical treatments unless they have completely read the story and have verified its accuracy. If a user finds inaccurate medical information through your social media channel, it can reflect very poorly upon you and your practice. Medical jobs rely upon the distribution of accurate information.
It is important for clinicians to realize that millions of people use the Internet to find out more about their condition. Pew Research estimates that more than one-third of Americans have used the Internet to discover what medical condition they or someone else might have. Current and potential patients will find your social media profile and they will assess its content and accuracy.
2. Do Not Post Anything that Violates Patient Confidentiality: The American College of Physicians recommends that doctors be especially aware of the implications for patient confidentiality when using social media. There have been cases of physicians losing their medical license after posting an image on social media that violated patient confidentiality. Even posting an image of a skin rash can be considered a violation of patient confidentiality, so be very careful. Always obtain permission from the patient in writing if you intend to use an image featuring any body part. Avoid talking about specific patients at all on social media unless you have permission to do so. Even if there is no chance that a patient could be identified by what you write on social media, it is considered unprofessional to discuss the specifics of their condition.
Be careful when taking photos of yourself while in your practice. There have also been cases where medical professionals have accidentally included the image of the patient behind them while taking a ‘selfie’. Make sure there are no patient health records on display when taking photos in the medical practice and no patients are included in photographs unless they want to be. All professionals in medical jobs and doctors office jobs (nurses, general practitioners, receptionists, surgeons) should keep patient confidentiality in mind when posting to their social media streams.
3. Your Personal Information: You should avoid posting any personal information to your professional social media streams. Posting an inappropriate comment, image or video can tarnish your professional reputation. It also risks a breach in the patient-doctor relationship if patients know too much about your personal life. Put it this way — when you are talking to your patients in a clinical setting would you ever tell them you got too drunk last Friday and had a great time?
The American College of Physicians (ACP) and the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) recommend that doctors create separate social media accounts for their professional and personal lives. They also suggest that the professional profile be more visible than any personal one.
Medical professionals should assess if the information they put on their social media profile suits the needs of their clients. If you are a general practitioner, it is unlikely that posting about your personal life would be of any benefit to your patients. Always think about the kinds of information your patients and community are interested in. Other staff in doctors office jobsincluding receptionists and managers should be also careful about the contents of their social media feed.
4. Opinions on Controversial Issues: While using the Internet, many people feel more opinionated and free to speak their mind. They believe the virtual world is not connected to the real one! Unfortunately what you say in the virtual world will most definitely have repercussions in the real world. Any controversial topic or “hot button” topic should be avoided as much as possible, including anything to do with religion, politics, racism, abortion, and gun control. You may see patients leave your practice, get confronted by your current patients, or dissuade members of the community from becoming your patient if they find out that your positions on these volatile issues are diametrically opposed to theirs.
5. Complaints or Rants: Even if you are having a really bad day, it is unprofessional to use social media platforms to complain or rant about your situation. Even if you have a horrible patient or an annoying colleague, don’t use social media as a way to blow off some steam. Everything you write on social media may one day come back to haunt you. If you complain about your boss, the next time you change jobs, a prospective employer might find the comments online. A patient might realize that you were complaining about them on social media!