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Social media use among physicians: New policy guidelines

At the most recent Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) annual meeting, which was held in Dallas, TX, in late April, the House of Delegates adopted new policy guidelines for the use of social media/networking by physicians.

FSMB president and CEO Humayun Chaudry, DO, noted that, “Digital media has enormous potential for doctors and patients, allowing us more opportunities to share information and establish meaningful professional relationships. However, physicians also need to be aware of how to maintain the same professional and ethical standards in their online activity as they do in the rest of their practice. Failing to do so can hurt patients and physicians’ careers.”

According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, violations of online professionalism are prevalent among physicians, with 92% of state medical boards having received reports of violations. Some of the violations reported include:

  • Inappropriate contact with patients online.
  • Inappropriate prescribing.
  • Misrepresentation of credentials or clinical outcomes.
The new policy guidelines, which were developed by the FSMB’s Special Committee on Ethics and Professionalism, provide state medical boards with recommendations to consider when educating their licensees on proper use of social media/networking. These recommendations include:
  • Physicians should only have online interaction with patients when discussing the patient’s medical treatment within the physician-patient relationship.
  • Patient privacy and confidentiality must be protected at all times, especially on social media and social networking websites.
  • Physicians should be aware that any information they post on a social networking site may be disseminated to a larger audience, and what they say may be taken out of context or remain publicly available online in perpetuity.
According to Ryan Greysen, MD, MHS, MA, assistant professor of hospital medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and lead author of this study, "This issue is important, especially considering that social media use among physicians is growing at a faster rate than among the general public."