Category Archives: Privacy and confidentiality

Jul 27 2012
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Physicians and Social Media: First, Do No Harm.

By Ryan Greysen, MD, MHS, an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars program and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco

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It seems commonplace today to hear of someone who’s done something online that they wish they hadn’t. Social media use has skyrocketed, and the Internet has pervaded our everyday lives, both personally and professionally. In 2009, my colleagues and I began thinking about this online content and how medical students might be using—or misusing—social media. We were among the first to look at this topic, and we focused on medical students because we assumed they were more frequent users of social media.

But while doing research for a perspective piece where we described “online professionalism” and the role of social media as a “mirror” of physician’s values to the public, we found a few reported incidents of licensed physicians getting into trouble with licensing boards. That begged the question: was this just an issue among medical trainees, or was this a trend among licensed physicians as well?

We approached the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) to see if they would partner with us in a study of all medical boards to see how this issue was playing out on a national scale. We surveyed the 68 medical boards across the U.S. to assess violations of online professionalism and actions taken by state medical boards and published our findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The majority of respondents at medical boards we surveyed (92 percent) said at least one online violation of professionalism had ever been reported. The most common problems were inappropriate patient communication online, such as sexual misconduct (69 percent); use of the Internet for inappropriate practice, including Internet prescribing without an established clinical relationship (63 percent); and doctors misrepresenting their credentials (60 percent).

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