Medscape Cardiology: A new social media policy urges doctors to “pause before posting” and to not “friend” patients online. The guidelines issued by the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards, was released at ACP Internal Medicine 2013 in San Francisco, California, and published April 11 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. It addresses the benefits and drawbacks of a number of online interactions, and proposes safeguards.
A recent survey of state medical boards showed that 92% reported at least 1 online violation of professionalism that led to a major action, such as license re vocation (JAMA. 2012;307:1141-1142).
1. Email and electronic communication should be restricted to individuals with whom the physician has an established physician–patient relationship. One need to be very careful about the type of information provided. It places ONE at a professional and ethical risk.
2. Another challenge is ensuring confidentiality. Posts on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites can be widely read, and even emails can be forwarded. We have to be careful about the kind of information we provide, particularly private and confidential information that the patient may not want shared.
3. Look for and use only portals for confidential interactions with patients rather than standard social media or personal Websites. A post can be taken out of context and go viral.
4. Social media however enables communication with a larger audience than you might be able to in a practice, which can be helpful when disseminating information on issues such as public health reform or vaccines. However, any posted comment can have a life of its own and might spread in a fashion you hadn’t intended.
5. Posts can be objective, such as referenced health information, or subjective, such as opinions on matters of public policy. We have to be clear which hat we’re wearing, whether it’s a personal opinion or we’re representing an institute or organization.
6. Physicians should keep their professional and personal personas separate; they should not “friend” or contact patients through personal social media.
7. Email and other electronic communications should only be used by physicians within an established patient–physician relationship and with patient consent.
8. When a physician is approached through electronic means for clinical advice in the absence of a patient–physician relationship, the individual should be encouraged to schedule an office visit or go to the nearest emergency department.
9. Text messaging should never be used for medical interactions, even with an established patient, except with extreme caution and consent from the patient.
10. Trainees can inadvertently harm their future careers by not posting responsibly or actively policing their online content.