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Public profile: Social media

17 June 2019 | Michael Swan, BN, LLB, Senior Solicitor, Avant Law, NSW

Social media platforms can be a fantastic mechanism to develop your professional presence, share information and network with your colleagues. Bearing in mind some important considerations will ensure you can make the most of social media and also comply with your legal and professional obligations.

Engaging in social media now involves choosing from hundreds of different platforms, from professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, social networking platforms like Facebook, blogs, microblogs such as Twitter, and content-sharing platforms such as YouTube and Instagram. Referral tools such as WOMO and True Local, discussion forums and message boards and messaging platforms such as WhatsApp also fall within the broad category of social media.

Professional behaviour

Your social media profile will often connect your professional and private personas. The Code Of Conduct includes professional obligations such as your responsibility to promote the health of the community. Your private actions may be seen as a reflection on your public persona. It is therefore safest to assume that at some stage a patient or colleague may be able to see your social media activity – consider whether you are comfortable with that before posting.

Consider who you ‘friend’ or share information with on social channels. Always be sure of the identity of people whose friend requests you accept. Do not accept friend requests from patients and do not seek to ‘friend’ patients.

Bear in mind that posting images or comments that could be seen to endorse activities and behaviour such as excessive alcohol consumption, drug use, violence or anti-social behaviours, could not only damage your professional reputation, but could be in breach of your professional obligations.

Employment obligations

Many workplaces have policies in place regarding use of social media, particularly in relation to the use of patient information. These are to protect privacy and prevent bringing the employer into disrepute.

If you are intending to use any patient information, even de-identified, you should be aware that such patient information may be the property of the practice or hospital where you work and should not be used without the entity’s consent, as well as any relevant patient consent.

Practice owners should consider what they would be willing to accept from any employed or contracted doctors working in your practice.

Prompted contact

You may be contacted by people who wish to seek further information or advice from you in response to your social media presence. Develop a strategy for responding to this – for example, referring them to their own treating doctor for any clinical advice in the first instance. If they wish to commence seeing you as their treating doctor, you should ensure that a formal doctor-patient relationship is established.

Key lessons

Key considerations to understand:

1. The different privacy settings and defaults of each platform you use.

2. How your professional and legal obligations affect your use of social media.

3. How posts, even those you think are private, could reflect on your professional reputation if seen by a patient, colleague or potential employer.

4. Your rights and obligations in relation to comments made about you online.

5. Understand the privacy settings of all your social media accounts and review these regularly.

6. Obtain and document patient consent to use any patient information, even if apparently de-identified.

7. Be aware of your professional, legal and employment obligations when using social media.

8. If in doubt, don’t post.

Useful resources

Read our factsheet Social media for doctors: keeping it professional, AHPRA’s Guidelines for Advertising Regulated Health Services and the Medical Board of Australia Social Media Policy.

This article was originally published in Connect Issue 10.

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