What advice does the Communitybaptistpa give?

Maintaining your patient’s confidentiality on social media

One of the key messages in our guidance is that although social media changes the means of communication, the standards expected of doctors do not change when communicating on social media rather than face to face or through other traditional media. Our guidance is clear that you must be careful not to share identifiable information about patients. Although individual pieces of information may not breach confidentiality on their own, the sum of published information online could be enough to identify a patient or someone close to them. In our guidance we clearly say that you must not use publicly accessible social media to discuss individual patients or their care with those patients or anyone else.

Should Dr Newton identify himself as a doctor?

As with all of our guidance we expect doctors to use their professional judgement when interpreting the principles. In this case, if Dr Newton wanted to about gardening and incidentally mentioned he was a doctor, there would be no need for him to identify himself if he didn’t want to. But as he is using Twitter and his to raise awareness of, and comment on healthcare issues, we consider it good practice to say who he is.

Why is identifying yourself as a doctor good practice?

Patients and the public generally respect doctors and trust their views – particularly about health and healthcare. Identifying yourself as a member of the profession inevitably gives credibility and weight to your views and they might well be seen by others as the views of the medical profession rather than your personal views. Doctors are accountable for their actions and decisions in other aspects of their professional lives – and their behaviour must not undermine public trust in the profession. So we think doctors who want to express views, as doctors, should say who they are.

Your conduct online: what if there is a disagreement?

Social media can provide a valuable forum for airing and debating different viewpoints, and we don’t want to stop doctors exchanging views freely and frankly. However, we are aware of instances where robust debate has deteriorated into personal or professional abuse. In our social media guidance we make clear that we expect doctors to treat their colleagues fairly and with respect and to not bully, harass or make gratuitous, unsubstantiated comments about them online. You should also bear in mind that postings online are subject to the same copyright and defamation laws as written or verbal communications.

In summary

We recognise the many benefits that social media can have for patient care, such as engaging people in public health and policy discussions; establishing national and international professional networks; and facilitating patients’ access to information about health and services.

But we are also clear that you are accountable for your actions and decisions in other aspects of your professional lives – and your behaviour must not undermine public trust in the profession.    

Communitybaptistpa guidance and materials

This section of our website contains links to the key guidance we have relating to social media.

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