The Do’s and Don’ts of Physician Social Media Use

In recent years, social media has dramatically changed the way you as a physician can interact with patients. But what are the guidelines you should follow when interacting with patients on social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube?

The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) developed ethical and professional guidance with the help of The Special Committee on Ethics and Professionalism in 2011 to answer such questions.

And it’s a good thing, too. According to a recent survey in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 92 percent of all medical and osteopathic boards in the U.S. have encountered complaints of online physician misconduct.

The FSMB guidelines are meant to protect physicians from unintended consequences and maintain public trust by:

  • Protecting the privacy and confidentiality of their patients
  • Avoiding requests for online medical advice
  • Acting with professionalism
  • Being forthcoming about their employment, credentials and conflicts of interest
  • Being aware that information they post online may be available to anyone, and could be misconstrued

The same survey also reported that 56 percent of medical boards have either restricted, suspended or revoked at least one physicians’ license for online missteps. State medical boards have the authority to discipline physicians for unprofessional behavior on social networking sites including, but not limited to:

  • Inappropriate communication with patients online
  • Use of the Internet for unprofessional behavior
  • Online misrepresentation of credentials
  • Online violations of patient confidentiality
  • Failure to reveal conflicts of interest online
  • Online derogatory remarks regarding a patient
  • Online depiction of intoxication
  • Discriminatory language or practices online