Use of Social Media by Health Care Professionals

April 20, 2011
Lisa Schulmeister

Sometimes the line between personal and professional gets blurred.

After a nurse wrote about her dissatisfaction with her work environment and her “incompetent” supervisor on her Facebook page, she was dismissed from employment. Although the reason for her dismissal was “overall poor job performance,” her comments about her supervisor were brought up during her termination.

Social networks, blogs, and other types of online communication can be used in health care in many different ways—both positive and negative. Most of the advice about using social media is to use common sense and for health care providers, to be professional. The American Medical Association (AMA) released its policy on professionalism in the use of social media in November 2010 (the American Nurses Association is in the process of developing a similar policy). Key points in the AMA policy include maintenance of patient privacy and confidentiality, use of privacy settings, and establishing professional boundaries to separate personal content from professional content. In addition, physicians have the responsibility to bring inappropriate and unprofessional content posted by their colleagues to the attention of those colleagues, and if professional norms are violated, the physician should report the matter to the appropriate authorities. The AMA notes that physicians must recognize that online content and actions can negatively affect their reputations among patients and colleagues and can undermine public trust. The full text of the AMA’s policy can be found at http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/meeting/professionalism-social-media.shtml.

All health care providers need to examine how they use social media, both in their professional as well as personal lives, and be aware that sometimes the line between professional and personal may be clear to them but not to others. As with conflict of interest, it is the perception of misuse of social media that is the core of the issue.