Social Media in Clinical Practice


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Ethical Use of Social Media Data: Beyond the Clinical Context

My coauthor, Susan Gay, had written an earlier book about online reviews and ratings of medical professionals. Our book was a natural outgrowth of her previous work and my current interests. I represent individual physicians or physician practices, and my book was designed to help these physicians or their office managers address digital challenges. Although many of the same issues apply to larger health systems, those typically have in-house counsel and compliance officers, while smaller practices have the same obligations but do not have the resources or infrastructure of larger health systems.

Login Register. How did you come to write your book? Who is your primary target audience? When scrutinized in the context of an identified practitioner or hospital, the event can be traced back through public vital statistics data to a specific patient or hospital. Therefore, posting or blogging about specific events or cases is strongly discouraged. High-profile cases have involved plastic surgeons posting patient photographs on Instagram 7 and an obstetrician—gynecologist venting on Facebook about a patient who arrived late for her scheduled induction.

Posting work-related content on social media, even if it is only intended for other health care team members, should be considered high-risk online behavior and is strongly discouraged. Health care team members who choose to communicate with each other using digital media eg, to facilitate practitioner-to-practitioner handoff or collaboration , should use password-protected EMRs or encrypted sites, such as SharePoint.

Any team communication should comply with institutional guidelines regarding use of electronic resources. Web pages have become a standard form of communication for businesses, organizations, and professionals. All content on these pages reflects directly on the owner or organization.


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Physicians currently use professional web pages for a variety of services, from providing basic business information, to scheduling patient appointments, to offering medical news. Physicians who use a web page to offer medical advice potentially create a patient—physician relationship, which carries the same responsibility and liability of a face-to-face encounter.

How to use social media in clinical practice keeping up with research

Maintaining a professional web page is a low-risk, useful tool, provided physicians refrain from offering online medical advice outside the context of an established patient—physician relationship. Social media sites are fast becoming standard tools for professional practices. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter may serve as a substitute for a professional web page or as an auxiliary platform for other original content, such as a blog. Some sites, such as LinkedIn, are primarily designed for professional networking and may facilitate communication between employees and employers.

Clinical Microbiology in the Time of Social Media

The ability of social media sites to spread information beyond the capacity of traditional digital media makes them attractive tools for organizations and individual professionals. However, the capacity to reach a widespread audience also carries the potential for unknown users to interact with the site and post undesired content, including comments or photos. Security settings can be set to ensure that your professional profile cannot be tagged by other users. You also can adjust security settings so that only authorized people can post as an administrator.

Clinical Microbiology in the Time of Social Media

Close surveillance of any professional social media page is recommended to ensure that any undesired content is discovered and addressed promptly. Because you can establish strict security settings and boundaries on personal information when you use a professional social media profile, it is preferable to a personal social media profile for professional communication. It can be a powerful tool with low risk when maintained with close surveillance.

Thus, it is understandable that many physicians have personal social media profiles.

Even if a physician chooses not to engage in social media, the widespread use of such sites highlights the importance of understanding new technology and new forms of communication. A personal social media profile can be an enjoyable way to share life events, photos, and other personal news with close family and friends. However, posting personal information increases the risk that it will reach a larger audience.

It should be understood that any content could become public material, even if it is only intended for trusted members of a group. A personal social media profile can be considered a moderate risk if the physician allows large audiences of informal acquaintances to view personal information. This online activity may be regarded as a lower risk if personal content is only shared with close family and friends. As previously stated, consideration of what constitutes a proper patient—physician relationship applies equally to in-person and online interaction 6. Note that this example applies specifically to a personal social media profile and not a professional profile.

Examples of riskier personal patient—physician online interaction might include offering medical advice in online forums or sharing personal information through a personal profile on other social media sites such as Twitter or YouTube. Some professionals advocate for surveillance as a form of prophylaxis against catastrophic events, such as suicide, while others prefer to exercise their own discretion in interacting with patients in social environments, including online settings.

As a principle, to ensure maintenance of appropriate patient—physician relationships, physicians using social media should observe the same ethical standards for online interactions as in-person interactions. Physicians face a new arena for evaluation with the emergence of online physician ratings. Physicians also may elect to engage with rating sites commonly used in business practice, such as Yelp, or invite patients to provide ratings and feedback on their professional social media profiles In any of these activities, it is imperative for physicians to understand and comply with the terms and conditions of the user agreement for these sites.

Failure to comply with these terms and conditions, specifically regarding solicitation of reviews, can be the source of litigation for any business, including physician group and individual practices. Physicians should be prepared to handle negative online ratings or reviews.

Current literature reveals that most online physician ratings are positive One physician group found that patient satisfaction and recruitment improved as a result of online physician ratings, including negative reviews Regardless of the content of the review, physicians are best served by monitoring, rather than ignoring, these online ratings.

Inaccurate information in reviews should be presented to the host site promptly to allow for investigation and removal of inaccuracies, where appropriate. Additionally, in any response to a review, physicians should abide by the same code of professionalism and conduct that applies to other offline behavior. The powerful connectivity of social media can apply to dissemination of scholarly publications and products.

Use of professional social networks affords researchers and professionals the opportunity to share their work across larger audiences of like-minded professionals, fosters the development of new collaboration, and offers a forum for online dialogue among remote colleagues 15— However, as with all content on social media, even in closed networks, physicians should exercise caution not to publish content that could be interpreted as offensive or inappropriate for mass dissemination.

Provided that physicians follow the Code of Professional Ethics of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 18 , the use of professional social networks can be a robust means of disseminating scholarly work and may be considered a low-risk, potentially high-value, online activity. Digital and social media are not only acceptable for the modern practicing physician, but have become necessary elements for relating to patients and practicing medicine.

Knowing how to monitor your digital presence and practicing low-risk behavior will substantially assist you in limiting your professional online exposure to liability. All rights reserved. Professional use of digital and social media. Committee Opinion No. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol ;— Women's Health Care Physicians. Background Some physicians are reluctant to engage in online communication with their patients or their communities because of concerns about liability and privacy laws. Liability Precedent for Online Exposure to Liability Practitioners frequently express concern about exposure to liability when engaging in online communication with their patients, members of their professional community, or the broader online community.

Patient—Physician Relationship The legal definition of the patient—physician relationship is informed by statute and decisions in tort and contract law. Online Behavior and Risks Online Communication With Established Patients Online or digital communication between patients and physicians should follow the same guidelines that apply to all patient—physician communication: adhere to HIPAA guidelines and conform to the standards of professional behavior 1—3.

Online Communication Without an Established Patient—Physician Relationship Physicians are reminded that they should be cautious about giving medical advice online to anyone who is not an established patient. Health Care Team Communication Box 1. Maintaining a Professional Web Page Web pages have become a standard form of communication for businesses, organizations, and professionals. Maintaining a Professional Social Media Profile Social media sites are fast becoming standard tools for professional practices.

Personal Interaction With Patients on Social Media As previously stated, consideration of what constitutes a proper patient—physician relationship applies equally to in-person and online interaction 6. Online Physician Ratings Physicians face a new arena for evaluation with the emergence of online physician ratings. Building Professional or Scholarly Networks Through Social Media The powerful connectivity of social media can apply to dissemination of scholarly publications and products.


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Conclusion Digital and social media are not only acceptable for the modern practicing physician, but have become necessary elements for relating to patients and practicing medicine. References Equal employment opportunities, 42 U.

Social Media in Clinical Practice Social Media in Clinical Practice
Social Media in Clinical Practice Social Media in Clinical Practice
Social Media in Clinical Practice Social Media in Clinical Practice
Social Media in Clinical Practice Social Media in Clinical Practice
Social Media in Clinical Practice Social Media in Clinical Practice
Social Media in Clinical Practice Social Media in Clinical Practice

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