MDs Advised to "Pause Before Posting"

As social media becomes increasingly important for businesses, like medical practices, to connect with consumers and reach new ones, new guidelines for how physicians should and should not use social media have come out.

It used to be if you didn’t have an online presence, then your business didn’t exist. Now, social media is becoming increasingly important for businesses, like medical practices, to connect with consumers and reach new ones.

New recommendations from the American College of Physicians (ACP) and the Federation of State Medical

Boards

(FSMB) for phy

sicians who

want to use social media was released in a policy paper, “Online Medical Professionalism: Patient and Public Relationships,” published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Digital communications and social media use continue to increase in popularity among the public and the medical profession,” Phyllis Guze, MD, FACP, chair, Board of Regents, ACP, said in a statement. “This policy paper provides needed guidance on best practices to inform standards for the professional conduct of physicians online.”

Areas of concern that the paper brings up are using social media for nonclinical purposes, confidentiality implications, using social media for patient education and how the public’s trust in physicians is affected as interactions go online.

“It is important for physicians to be aware of the implications for confidentiality and how the use of online media for non-clinical purposes impacts trust in the medical profession,” Humayun Chaudhry, DO, MS, FACP, president and CEO, FSMB, said in a statement.

The FSMB discourages physicians from interacting with patients on networks like Facebook. Although many patients extend friend requests to their physicians, the doctor should not reciprocate or accept, according to the paper.

“Online technologies present both opportunities and challenges to professionalism,” the organizations wrote in the paper. “They offer innovative ways for physicians to interact with patients and positively affect the health of communities, but the tenets of professionalism and of the patient—physician relationship should govern these interactions.”

Both organizations advise that physicians don’t include patients in their personal and social interactions online — instead, they should maintain a professional distance.

However, they realize that any guidelines laid out will likely need to adapt “as technology advances and best practices emerge.” Despite their warnings, both the ACP and FSMB wrote that physicians do need to familiarize themselves with these technologies.

“Physicians are encouraged to take a proactive approach to managing digital identity by routinely performing surveillance of publicly available material and maintaining strict privacy settings about their information.”

Read the full paper.

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