Physician Violations of Online Professionalism and Disciplinary Actions

A National Survey of State Medical Boards

A connected online world through social media has increased the demand for guidelines and terms of use for users. Professional societies for physicians and other health care workers have issued guidelines for social media use to ensure online professionalism in the open and transparent online world. This research letter examines the oversight by licensing authorities for physician uses of the Internet and disciplinary consequences for violations.

A national survey was conducted of the 68 executive directors of all medical and osteopathic boards in the U.S. and its territories. Developed with the input of key informants, the survey focused on reported violations of online professionalism and disciplinary actions taken. The survey responses represented 88 percent of physicians in the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) database with active licenses.

Key Findings:

  • The majority (92%) of respondents reported that at least one online professionalism violation had ever been reported to their board.
  • Inappropriate patient communication online, use of the Internet for inappropriate practice, and misrepresentation of credentials were the three most common reported violations.
  • Most often, formal disciplinary hearings were held in response to violations (50%). Additionally, 40 percent of the boards noted issuing consent orders.

Online professionalism will be important to address and discipline as the role of the Internet increases in society.