A recent study published by the Journal of American Medical Association (AMA) reveals that violations of online professionalism are prevalent among physicians. In fact, 92% of state medical boards have received reports of violations of online professionalism, including inappropriately “friending” patients on Facebook, insulting tweets that have gone viral, and exposing too much private information on social media sites or blogs. Complaints were lodged by patients, other medical personnel or physicians, and family members of patients. Over half of the complaints filed resulted in some form of discipline, ranging from suspension, revocation, and limitation of a physician’s license. Dr. Ryan Greysen, the lead author of the study, stated "Like everyone else, doctors sometimes stumble in their online behaviors and make mistakes in judgment about content they post; they think they're doing nothing wrong but, unfortunately, the disciplinary responses can be a big deal."
The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) responded by issuing a new model policy on the use of social media by physicians. While acknowledging the “enormous potential” of social media, FSMB President and CEO Humayun Chaudhry warned that “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.” The FSMB policy makes the following recommendations:
• Physicians should only have online interaction with patients when discussing the patient’s medical treatment within the physician-patient relationship – and these interactions should never occur on personal social networking or social media
• Patient privacy and confidentiality must be protected at all times, especially on social media and social networking websites. Although physicians may discuss their experiences in non-clinical settings, they should never provide any
information that could be used to identify patients; and
• Physicians should be aware that any information they post on a social networking site may be disseminated to a larger audience, and that what they say may be taken out of context or remain publicly available online in perpetuity.