January 11th, 2012
Use social networking sites with care, says Sara Williams of the MPS.
The saying goes “what happens on tour stays on tour”, but when posting online bear in mind that what happens on Twitter stays on Google forever. Doctors should exercise caution when making entries on social networking sites – the internet is not a private space and nothing is truly anonymous.
Photo by Florian SEROUSSIMPS is aware of cases where junior doctors have discussed patients on social networking sites, assuming that they would not be identified – but they were exposed and those involved were disciplined.
The Journal of the American Medical Association uncovered many online breaches of patient confidentiality on social networking sites. The study found explicit postings from trainee doctors that revealed private patient information. Most were in blogs, including one on Facebook, containing enough clinical information that a patient could be identified.
Social networking sites blur the boundary between an individual’s public and professional life. Be wary of posting inappropriate material on social media sites, such as photos that may bring your professionalism or that of colleagues into question, even if they are taken in your free time.
However, tight privacy settings can create a false sense of security. Comments about your day-to-day work and the patients you have seen, even if anonymous, still pose a risk, as the information may be identifiable and so may breach confidentiality.
Follow these tips from Sophos to protect yourself when using social media:
- log out when you move from one terminal to another
- check what levels of privacy you have set up
- enable secure browsing using https. This can be found under the account settings tabs of most social networking sites.
- choose a password with a mixture of upper and lower case letters and other characters, and change it as regularly as is practical.
Things to remember:
- Your ethical and legal duty to protect confidentiality applies equally on the internet.
- Do not accept current or former patients as friends/followers.
- It is inappropriate to post informal, personal or derogatory comments about patients or colleagues on public internet forums.
- Defamation law can apply to any comments posted on the web made in either a personal or professional capacity.
- Ensure that you do not inadvertently breach your contract of employment, by being aware of your local commissioning body or health board’s policy on blogging, etc.
- Be conscious of your online image when posting images on the web and consider how it may impact on your professional standing.
- Doctors and medical students who post online have an ethical obligation to declare any conflicts of interest.
The appetite for social networking can only get bigger, so doctors should take advantage of its many benefits, as long as they are balanced against the risks.
This is a summary, read the full article here. The BMA has also produced useful guidance here.
January 9th, 2012
On the 31st of October 2011, the General Medical Council in the UK launched a consultation to produce guidelines for doctors and healthcare professionals when using social media. Why is this needed, and why now? The simple answer is – to stop you from getting into hot water when using Twitter and Social Media!
Top time for Hot Water in 2012?
“Personal profiles on Facebook and other social-networking sites are a trove of inappropriate and embarrassing photographs and discomfiting breaches of confidentiality. You might expect that from your friends and even some colleagues — but what about your doctor?” Time Magazine
This is current news in 2012, but if you look at the date of publication of this time article, it’s September 2009. Although this was published over two years ago, we think medical students are going to be coming under increasing scrutiny as the year unfolds.
It’s happened before, in the UK…
Remember people playing the lying down game? Roll back to Swindon, UK. A number of junior doctors were suspended for what many medical students and doctors considered hijinks: posing for photographs whilst lying down in unusual places. See our example of the latest MRI-PET scanner here:
It’s happening now…
A research paper from 2010 looked at a small group of medical students in Liverpool, UK. Over half had witnessed unprofessional behaviour by their colleagues on social media.
Dr Amy Cunningham, a lecturer from Cardiff University recently highlighted on Twitter and her blog about doctors using slang on social media, e.g. referring to ‘mad-wives’ instead of midwives. For her efforts, both she and the doctors in question were both applauded and criticised by healthcare professionals and different elements of the national press.
Help is at hand…
If things seem a bit blurry and you dont know who to turn to for advice, fear not – as we have compiled a handy list of references:
- From Your Institution – Check if you have guidelines at your University, and follow them!
- From Professional organisations
- Help From Within – We think ‘use your moral compass’ is a great adage. See the moral compass example of one experienced GP below.
Advice from an experienced user of social media
One of our medical professionals says this:
“I use this principle. If I wouldn’t be happy with any of: my mother, friends, work colleagues, peers, nurses, receptionists, patients, friends of patients, children of patients, professional licencing bodies, line manager seeing it, don’t post it. Do not post anything relating to your workplace, patients, or patient care online. If you have a grievance, use formal channels.”
What about anonymity online, protected tweets, protected postings?
“Just be careful. Is it worth risking your professional status over such minutia? The security of these areas is becoming increasing difficult to police. Don’t go there.”
Happy – and safe – tweeting in 2012!