How Doctors Should Behave Online

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 Stef dela Cruz 13 Comments

It seems that many doctors don’t know how to behave on Twitter or Facebook – and many suck at it so bad that the American College of Physicians, together with the Federation of State Medical Boards, had to issue a statement on how doctors should behave online.

Are you friends with a doctor on Facebook? Do you follow a doctor on Twitter or Instagram? How do they behave online?

If you’re posting photos of unconscious patients in the operating room or bashing the ugly senior doctor on Facebook, you’re in trouble, doctor.

Sad to say, I’ve seen way too many of my fellow doctors calling their schizophrenic patients “crazy” on Facebook or posting photos that they took of their anesthetized (unconscious) patients. One physician even mentioned the full name of his patient while bashing him on Facebook! Seeing fellow doctors badmouthing their own patients leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

How Doctors Should Behave Online: Statement from American College of Physicians

Perhaps the American College of Physicians (ACP) has had enough, which is why a policy statement on how doctors should behave online was finally issued. If you’re a consultant, resident, senior intern, clerk, or aspiring doctor, read and find out why you should never backstab your patients on any of your social networks - or give medical advice online to strangers.

  1. According to the ACP policy statement on how doctors should behave online, doctors should apply to their social networks the same ethical principles they observe in the clinic or hospital. That means doctors should never reveal patients’ names or post photos of their unconscious O.R. patients on Facebook! Doctors should always maintain privacy and confidentiality in the same way that they do when they’re in the hospital.
  2. Doctors shouldn’t mix business with pleasure, so to speak. Although doctors should respect and build rapport with their patients, it doesn’t make sense to treat patients as friends, invite them to drinking sprees, or add them to private Facebook accounts. Imagine what would happen if your patient happens to be a staunch Reproductive Health Law supporter – and you’re anything but. Erasing the boundary between a patient and a doctor is a formula for disaster!
  3. Doctors shouldn’t just contact their patients online, whether via email, Twitter, or Instagram. They should also refrain from giving medical advice online! If doctors want to send emails to their patients, it should be with their consent – and online communication should be duly documented in the patient’s records. In addition, people asking medical advice online (which happens a lot on my Facebook account and website) should be encouraged to seek medical consultation (which I always do, thank heavens!). Medical advice online should be geared towards encouraging people to go to the clinic or hospital because – and even first-year medical students know this – diagnosing a patient relies on a detailed history and physical exam, both of which you can’t do effectively unless your patient is right in front of you.
  4. Doctors should police their online information, correcting wrong info about themselves. Now, this I find a little impractical, especially if a doctor knows nothing about SEO and SERPs. The position paper from the American College of Physicians implies that doctors should Google themselves frequently and if they see any website offering incorrect information about them, they should try to correct that information or publish the correct info on other websites that will rank higher on search pages. I pity the doctor who has many online enemies.
  5. Lastly, doctors should remember that anything they post online might never be redacted or retracted. That includes scandalous sex videos, drunk photos of yourself, or status updates about the visiting physician who has an ugly unibrow. Repeat after me: The more scandalous it is, the more propensity it has for becoming a meme.

So, dear doctor, remember to keep your mouth shut if you have nothing nice to say or it will come back to bite you in the behind! Although it’s alright to goof around and be the clown that you are in person, posting negative stuff about your patients is unbecoming and unprofessional.

Now, I want to ask all the readers of this blog a relevant question.

How should doctors behave online

What do you think? Which is worse? Why do you think so? Leave your answer in the comment section below. Let’s get the ball rolling!

And if you happen to be friends with a doctor, don’t hesitate to share this article on how doctors should behave online – you’ll be doing them a huge favor.

I can’t believe it takes a policy statement on how doctors should behave online for physicians to learn about social media management. I always thought all it took was common sense. But then again, for you to be a good doctor, you have to be a good person – and unlike a high NMAT score, that alone is not always one of the admission requirements of a medical school. And that’s just too bad.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She maintains a health column in Health.Care Magazine and a cat welfare column in The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene. Add her to your circles.

13 comments:

  1. I would say that it would be the latter, letter B.

    Though letter A is definitely bad, I would say that it is more of a personal dilemma, as sex is generally being done by most people irregardless or profession or social standing.

    B on the other hand is a conscious commission of a very unethical activity, which is even a crime at times. :)

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  2. IN france we ought to follow 3 mains rules, about our ethical behavior.

    1- graduate , we have to make an oath in front of a jury of physicians.( hippocrate's oath)
    2- a national association called '' conseil de l 'odre'' works like a '' big brother'' for the whole working life of every physicians. Aafter complaint ( patient or colleagues)i can get sanctions
    3- there is a Law ( public health code). Again i can get a second sanction;

    Sharing our life on line , on any social networks, cell phone is so easy now. But the main point each physicians must keep in mind is the '' MEDICAL SECRET''. Everything what happened, heard, talked, seen in any physician's office should not go out this office. The patient is the ONLY one person who is owner of his own personal medical story , who can leave comment about his story, ON LINE . NO one's else. Even the parents, children, relatives of the patient cannot be informed about anything happened in the office.The secret kept in the catholic confessions boxes is similar. Don't respect this rule is very heavy professional fault. Don' t respect this rule mean lose the CONFIDENCE of the whole patients.

    The fellow man's , neigbours's Confidence is so ''fragile'', similar Love. Take care, caution, be careful, warning etc....

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  3. Mine is B. Its unprofessional and unethical (unless given consent).

    A has nothing to do with his profession but will definitely give people things consider, more so for women if the doctor is male.

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  4. Good explanations behind your answers! Keep them coming! :)

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  5. What if the patient is properly draped and covered maintaining her anonymity?

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  6. Doctors shouldn’t just contact their patients online, whether via email, Twitter, or Instagram. They should also refrain from giving medical advice online! If doctors want to send emails to their patients, it should be with their consent – and online communication should be duly documented in the patient’s records. In addition, people asking medical advice online (which happens a lot on my Facebook account and website) should be encouraged to seek medical consultation (which I always do, thank heavens!). Medical advice online should be geared towards encouraging people to go to the clinic or hospital because – and even first-year medical students know this – diagnosing a patient relies on a detailed history and physical exam, both of which you can’t do effectively unless your patient is right in front of you. - That's why we should censor TV shows like Salamat Dok or any other show on TV where media accepts phone in questions and the doctor attempts to give advice or even provide prescriptions (herbal or standard medicines) on the air without even seeing the patient.

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  7. Hello, Dr Co! I feel iffy about call-in segments as well, especially if the doctor being asked automatically answers with medical advice.

    There is, however, one way these segments can be used to turn things around. The moment a person calls in, the doctor host can say, "As much as we would love to diagnose you and give you the advice you need right now, we want to make sure you get diagnosed and treated as accurately as possible. For all you know, the condition we are discussing right now isn't the one you have! If there is any medical advice we can give as of this moment, it is this: Visit a doctor you trust, one who can examine and interview you properly. It will be worth your while. You deserve an experience customized to your unique needs."

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  8. Deric, sorry for publishing your comment this late - I saw it in the spam folder. Anyway, back to your question.

    I remember an ethics professor telling me this: When in doubt, always think, "Is this something I would let other doctors do when my loved one is on the surgical table?" If your answer is no, then it's better to err on the side of caution and refrain from doing what you don't want others to do unto your loved ones.

    Better yet, review the bioethics principles. Use them and let me know if you've come up with an answer of your own. (I'm assuming you're a doctor, since you stumbled upon this particular blog post.) I always encourage initiative and independence among colleagues; it makes discussions more balanced, don't you think?

    Looking forward to reading about how you will use the principles you learned in med school. :) Do us doctors proud! Feel free to leave your answer via the comment section, as usual.

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  9. Being a Doctor is a responsibility. Responsible on their acts as well as what comes out of their mouth.

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  10. True, especially when it involves patients. Thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment!

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