Healthcare Technology Featured Article

August 30, 2012

Social Media a 'No-No' for Most Medical Staff

Whose life hasn’t been affected by social media?

But there are some for whom the very words can spell danger, and it’s probably not who you’re thinking of.

Believe it or not, social media is proving very controversial in the medical world.

Of course, the idea is a great one. Use it to stay in better touch with patients, sure, but some are friending people they treat, others revealing too much on Facebook, and even others getting hit with sexual harassment charges for tweets and posts. 

Ed Rabinowitz quoted Jeff Tangney, chief executive officer at Doximity, the largest online network helping physicians connect with their colleagues, as saying that approximately 70 percent of physicians are Facebook users. But Tangney noted in his interview with Rabinowitz that most of them do so using a pseudonym.

“They have to [use a pseudonym],” Tangney told Rabinowitz. “There have been a number of cases, mainly young doctors, who have been fired for friending a patient. The mere establishment of the existence of that friend relationship can be a HIPAA violation.”

It’s easy to see why psychiatrists and psychologists run great risks if they get too “friendly” with patients over social media. But Rabinowitz reported that Tangney recalls that a doctor in Rhode Island was fined and fired for posting a photo of a patient’s body part.

It’s also easy for e-mail messages to be misinterpreted, as they can be in the business world, as well. No verbal cues, and no body language. You can completely misunderstand what someone means, and if you’re talking about complicated medical information, it’s all too easy to press unnecessary panic buttons.

Same goes in the physician-staff relationship. If a physician becomes friends online with a staff member, who then performs poorly in the office and is subsequently reprimanded by the physician, it wouldn’t be unusual for the staff member to feel betrayed because he or she is “friends” with the physician – because that line has been crossed.

Most state medical licensing boards have received at least one complaint about unprofessional online behavior by physicians, according to a research letter in JAMA.

Even medical students need to be careful. In 2009, a study found that most medical school deans surveyed said they were “aware of students posting unprofessional content online, including photos of drug paraphernalia and violations of patient privacy.”

Edited by Braden Becker
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