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Doctors seek more advice on use of social media

Medical Defence Union receiving more calls than ever about Facebook, blogs and other websites

Ingrid Torjesen

Monday, 25 March 2013

More doctors than ever have been asking for advice on use of social media, the Medical Defence Union has revealed.

The MDU made the revelation as the General Medical Council published advice on the use of social media in its core guidance – Good Medical Practice – for the first time.

The MDU, which represents over half of UK doctors, said it received around five calls each month in 2012 from GPs and hospital doctors with concerns about Facebook, blogs and other websites. This compares with around three such calls per month in 2011. Common concerns included complaints and allegations made about doctors by patients on social networking sites; friendship requests from patients; and doctors who had found themselves in difficulties after posting comments and images online.

MDU adviser, Dr Catherine Wills, said: “Social media can be a force for good in medicine, for example, by helping doctors to network more effectively and giving patients access to more healthcare information. But there are risks too, particularly when it comes to maintaining boundaries with patients and acting professionally and we are pleased that the GMC’s guidance has addressed such a growing issue for our members.”

In its explanatory guidance, Doctors’ Use of Social Media, the GMC advises doctors who are contacted through their private profile by a patient to explain that they cannot mix social and professional relationships and, where appropriate, direct them to their professional profile. It states doctors must not discuss individual patients or their care via publicly accessible social media; “must not bully, harass or make gratuitous, unsubstantiated or unsustainable comments about individuals online”; and “if you identify yourself as a doctor in publicly accessible social media, you should also identify yourself by name”.

Doctors using social networking sites are advised by the MDU to:

  • Keep your profile private - limit access to friends only and don't accept requests from patients to become a friend.
  • Be professional in your comments, especially about patients or colleagues.
  • Be cautious about posting anything that may bring the profession into disrepute.
  • Be aware that anything you upload on to a social networking site may be distributed further than you intended.

Image credit attribution: Ryan DeBerardinis/Shutterstock.com

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