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.