Online Professionalism and the Mirror of Social Media

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia and blogs have brought new hazards to medical professionalism as providers, including medical students and residents, post inappropriate content online. Possible reasons:

  • Physicians (and those in training) may have trouble applying medical professionalism principles to online activity.
  • Social media sites may appear anonymous and medical professionals may do or say things they would never do in person.
  • An online slip can be far reaching as it is magnified or distorted when it gets forwarded and commented on.

As individuals tread through the Web they must be aware that they leave a footprint visible to others and that their actions reflect the medical profession at large.

More than adhering to the “do no harm” rule and curtailing unprofessional behavior online, physicians and health care organizations can use the power of social media in positive ways. Medical students can share clinical narratives that avoid revealing personal information. Providers can facilitate interactions with patients and provide medical information to the public.

Furthermore, institutions are in the position to define and exemplify online professionalism by using consensus-oriented dialog—involving students, patients, educators, clinicians and administrators—to develop guidelines and standards for social media.