The Social Physician

The Social Physician

Your patients are talking about you online. Social media is the platform where you can listen to them. If used intelligently, it can be a powerful business tool for physicians. But there is a catch! You need to be very cautious to maintain patient privacy and confidentiality.

The last decade in the history of Internet can be well-defined as a revolution that brought forth social media platforms. If we talk about healthcare, social media has transformed the dynamics of the doctor-patient relationship and has put tech-savvy patients in the driver’s seat. They are now empowered with Internet and social media and do their homework before making health decisions.

An increasing number of physicians have embraced this digital change and use social media to communicate with patients. However, the proliferation of social media by physicians combined with the ease of finding information online can be a cause for concern. It can blur the line between personal and professional online presence for physicians and make it difficult for them to maintain an “appropriate” online image.

Social media guidelines for physicians

As the foundation of healthcare is integrity, a professional approach is imperative to maintain confidentiality, honesty and trust in the medical profession. The American Medical Association has established social media policy guidelines which report that social networking can enhance camaraderie among healthcare professionals, provide physicians with the opportunity to have a professional presence online as well as present an unbeatable opportunity to “widely disseminate public health messages.” But while embracing it, physicians must keep in mind to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of patient information. They should always be mindful that their online interactions should not be at the cost of their professional commitments.

Take the first step to protect your online reputation and request your Online Reputation Assessment.

The American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards have stated the recommendations for online medical professionalism. These include maintaining standards of confidentiality; maintaining appropriate boundaries of the patient-physician relationship; and using privacy settings on various digital channels to safeguard personal information. In addition, the guidelines suggest that physicians bring any perceived unprofessional content on behalf of their colleagues to their attention and, if the colleagues do not take action, to bring the matter to the appropriate authorities. Lastly, the guidelines advise physicians that their actions online may negatively affect their reputations and medical career.

For physicians who wish to leverage social networks for professional connections and maintain privacy in other aspects, a “dual-citizenship” approach is the best.  They should maintain separate personal and professional profiles with strict privacy settings on both. Furthermore, physicians should routinely scan their online presence and make sure all their posts and communications comply with patient privacy policies. Monitoring is especially important for information that is not under direct control of the individual physician. Any violation of guidelines or breach of privacy can be noticed and efforts can be made to rectify the issue before it is blown out of proportion.

The increased use of online physician-rating sites and search engines by patients requires physicians to examine and manage their online identities. Their online presence determines how their practice is perceived as a brand among online users. These challenges demand physicians to proactively review and maintain their digital lives.

There may be countless concerns that need to be taken into consideration while exploring the use of social media for branding your practice and having conversations with patients. But as they say, “No risk, no gain;” A little caution, some vigilance and a lot of common sense can make your efforts worthwhile.

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