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Never off duty — doctors’ use of social media

The Medical Council published the findings of its Survey of Public Attitudes to Doctors’ Professionalism (the ‘Survey’) on 30 July, 2015. The Survey, which was carried out on 1,000 adults, highlights the importance for doctors of maintaining patient confidentiality when using social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook or professional blogs.

The Survey found that over 76 per cent of those surveyed agreed that if their doctor posted personal information on a social media platform, it would make them think differently about his or her professionalism; 96 per cent of those surveyed agreed that a doctor should never share patient information through social media.

The long-standing guidance about maintaining the confidentiality of patient information is equally applicable to the use of social media

It is perhaps timely then that the Medical Council also recently published a new draft Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics, 8th edition (the ‘Guide’), which includes information and guidance for doctors on the use of social media.

By adhering to the following guidelines, doctors should avoid common pitfalls when using social media.

The Guide states:

 

  • Where doctors engage in any form of social media usage, they should maintain the professional standards expected of them in other forms of communication.
  • Doctors should consider the possible impact on colleagues, patients or the public perception of the profession before publishing comments on social media sites.
  • Doctors should keep personal and professional use of social media separate as far as possible, and avoid communicating with patients through personal social networking sites.
  • Doctors should not publish information about patients from which those patients might be identified. The long-standing guidance about maintaining the confidentiality of patient information is equally applicable to the use of social media.
  • The Guide recognises that closed professional networks can provide a useful forum in which to share professional experience and case studies, to set up expert or learning groups and to obtain advice or help. However, patient information should be anonymised as far as possible and doctors should take reasonable steps to ensure the closed network has effective security settings and privacy policies.
  • Where a doctor offers clinical advice online, he/she should identify themselves by name.
  • The doctor must take all reasonable steps to ensure the information or advice provided is accurate and valid, as patients and professional colleagues may rely upon that information.

The Guide remains in draft form and is expected to be finalised following feedback from doctors, the public and other stakeholders.

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Niall Rooney, Matheson

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