As an ob-gyn and active user of social media, I enjoy being able to connect online with friends, family, and colleagues. Turns out, I’m in good company: Nearly all physicians in the US are now on social media, and more and more of us are using social for professional purposes.
Social media opens up an exciting new world for physicians and health professionals: Sharing important health messages with the community, promoting your practice and services, or communicating with colleagues via professional social networks, to name a few. And the medium is great for relaying information quickly and easily: With the touch of your finger, you can relay a message or post an image about anything to a few people or the entire world, and we can truly make a difference with social media.
With the great possibilities and benefits of social media also comes caution for those of us in the medical community. Instantaneous access to information is great, except when it’s information that may be misinterpreted, misunderstood, or may contain inappropriate or unprofessional expressions or images. It can result in health professionals being seen as insensitive and unprofessional, and even more seriously, violate privacy law and HIPAA.
OK, but you’re thinking—I would never post anything inappropriate, and this doesn’t happen very often anyway, does it? Unfortunately, there are more and more online incidents like the above examples involving health professionals. A recent survey of state medical boards revealed some surprises about professional violations: About 92% reported at least one online violation that led to major actions such as license revocation, and the problems occurred across every age and demographic group.
The offending examples of what caused the problems may also surprise you. One ob-gyn was scrutinized for venting her frustrations online about patients’ tardiness. A patient is suing an anesthesiologist who put stickers on her face, and the nurse shared it on social media. Posts such as these have caused strained relationships, public complaints, and led to disciplinary action from employers, medical boards, and judges.
As health professionals, we need to harness the power of social media while avoiding the issues and risks. To help make this possible, ACOG has developed a Social Media Guide, including some do’s and don’ts of posting. There’s also a short video that I produced with my colleagues from the ACOG Junior Fellow Congress Advisory Council, which shows the type of behavior to avoid—including how humor online may be misconstrued and taken out of context.
Here are five of my essential tips to ensure social media professionalism for health professionals:
- Pause before you post.
- When in doubt, leave it out.
- Avoid posting pictures from your personal life that could be misunderstood when viewed in a professional context. This might include pictures involving alcohol (including alcoholic glasses, cups, or bottles); tobacco/smoking, being intoxicated or using other substances; or pictures of you or others in suggestive or provocative attire such as bathing suits.
- Avoid posting about specific situations related to your work or a patient, even if you’re not identifying anyone in particular.
- Remember that it’s easy for your personal life and professional life to blend together online, so avoid personal expressions of anger, grief or venting online.
What are your favorite tips on social media for health professionals? I believe that it’s our responsibility to help each other learn how to use social media to interact with our colleagues and patients. As the medical and technology fields continue to change rapidly, it’s important for health professionals to share critical medical knowledge that the public depends on to make sound medical decisions. We have an opportunity to provide medical facts and advice, and the public wants to hear from us.
Meadow M. Good, DO, is chair of ACOG’s Junior Fellow Congress Advisory Council. You can follow her on Twitter @MeadowGood.