Ask your doctor - but not via social media

Physicians and other healthcare providers need to be especially careful when using social media

doctor_tablet-600x450_0.jpgImage credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias
Doctors using social media should tread very carefully

The use  - or potential misuse - of social media by workers is becoming a bigger and bigger issue across all kind of jobs and industries. However, there’s one profession where the use of social media is particularly rife with potential for trouble: physicians and medical professionals. A recent survey of state medical boards published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a majority would investigate physicians for violating online professionalism for things like misrepresenting credentials, posting images of patients without consent and inappropriately contacting patients.

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But what are doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to do? Should they avoid social media completely, or is there some way they can continue to use, say Facebook, without crossing any professional lines? Is there any useful role for social media at all for healthcare providers?

I recently spoke with Dr. Alex Blau, a former emergency room physician and currently the Medical Director of Doximity, a professional networking company for physicians that provides a secure environment for doctors to privately discuss medical issues. According to Blau, while there are any number of potential social media pitfalls for doctors (e.g., depicting themselves being intoxicated, being derogatory towards patients) the biggest concern, by far, is the violation of patient privacy.

“We've seen a lot of physicians and other healthcare providers getting themselves into trouble with seemingly innocuous comments on Twitter and Facebook which are then traceable back to an individual patient,” Blau said. In addition to getting the physician in trouble, it’s also a potentially big (and expensive) problem for hospitals. “There's tremendous liability for health care institutions when it comes to violations of patient privacy. There's definitely a push to have their health care labor force off of social media.”

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