Deciphering the do's and don'ts of social media is tricky in any profession. It can be especially difficult for physicians balancing a tell-all online culture with strict patient privacy rules.
Two physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have a few suggestions for their colleagues. Of course, revealing patient information online is a big no-no. But there's more to it than that, Arash Mostaghimi and Bradley H. Crotty wrote in an editorial in the latest Annals of Internal Medicine. They urge doctors to think carefully about their online lives, recognizing first that they are operating in a public space:
Most hospital elevators have large signs reminding staff not to discuss patients in public settings. Even if a patient’s name is not used, details or the tone of the discussion may alarm others in the elevator. In this fashion, social networks may be considered the new millennium’s elevator: a public forum where you have little to no control over who hears what you say, even if the material is not intended for the public.
I talked with Crotty about what physicians can do to manage their time in the online elevator:
Google yourself: Conduct regular audits to find out what patients can see. Do your political contributions or old photos from college pop up? Are rating sites publishing your name and office address, and is it correct? What are others saying about you? Who shares your name, and what impact could their information have on how people (mistakenly) view you?
Manage your image: Control the message by creating your own content, including a professional biography that patients can find through a search.
Separate the personal from the professional: You don't have to give up a personal Facebook page you have had since high school, Crotty said. But you should maximize privacy settings, use it only for personal uses and think carefully about what you post -- nothing you will regret later. And remember, he said, the internet is archived. Separately, create a professional website, a public Facebook page or a Twitter account to be used only for work purposes.
Avoid communicating with patients through social media: This is best left to secure portals. Consider what would happen if you exchange appropriate messages with a patient through Facebook and then Facebook changes the settings, making private messages public? "There’s just no control," Crotty said.
See the good: Tools like Twitter can be valuable for putting out public messages useful to patients, such as notices about the availability of flu vaccines or changes to child car seat guidelines, Crotty said. They are great venues for connecting with other doctors or for finding information about grant opportunities.
The bottom line: These new networks can be “tools for good," Crotty said, "but also tools that we want to use cautiously.”
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|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
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