Working with doctors Working for patients


It is important to maintain professional boundaries with patients...

Social media can blur the line between social and professional boundaries. Dr Walker was right to explain to Farrah why he wouldn't be able to accept a friend request from her. This is the case in all doctor/patient relationships but it can be particularly important when the patient is vulnerable. It wouldn't be acceptable to agree to receive a Facebook friend request from a patient because you were worried about upsetting them. In this case, Dr Walker was able to respond sensitively and professionally to Farrah and to direct her to other sources of help and support to meet her needs.

Privacy settings do not guarantee confidentiality...

Dr Walker thought that only his followers could see his Tweets. But as Chris pointed out, anyone could search for it and see it, including patients and his employer.

Social media settings cannot guarantee confidentiality whatever privacy settings are in place. Doctors who use Twitter and other social media sites should be aware of this and regularly review the privacy settings for their social media profiles. Dr Walker could make all of his Tweets protected and not allow re-tweets. But it doesn't mean that the things he posts never get a wider audience as they may make it into the public domain as screen shots. It also only applies to future Tweets, not anything he has posted in the past. Additionally, Dr Walker may not want to limit his Twitter use in this way, particularly if he wants to comment on health related issues.

If you are Tweeting or ging as a doctor it is good practice to identify yourself...

Patients and the public generally respect doctors and trust their views - particularly about health and healthcare. Identifying yourself as a member of the profession gives credibility and weight to your views. Doctors are accountable for their actions and decisions in other aspects of their professional lives - and their behaviour must not undermine public trust in the profession.

One option Dr Walker considers is changing his Twitter name so he can tweet anonymously. We think that if doctors are using social media to comment on health or healthcare issues, it is good practice for them to say who they are. Dr Walker mostly uses his Twitter feed to tweet about personal issues but he does sometimes tweet about health issues in the news and he also sometimes re-tweets what other doctors say. So he needs to use his judgement to decide whether he should identify himself by name. In this case, a sensible approach is the one taken by Dr Walker to keep his existing Twitter name (his own) but to be a bit more careful about what he posts in the future. This means that he can continue to comment on health issues as well as using Twitter to post about personal issues.

Of course doctors can use social media personally and professionally...

Dr Walker considers whether he should close his Twitter account and stop using social media altogether. This is a rather drastic response to the problem and isn't necessary to comply with Communitybaptistpa guidance.

All doctors, but particularly those in training, can benefit from sharing information, experiences and learning resources through social media. And of course they can enjoy the social aspects, and expressing their views, in the same way as everyone else.

The Communitybaptistpa has no interest in doctors' use of social media in their personal lives - Tweets, s, Facebook pages etc. We are not restricting doctors' right to express their views and opinions except:

  • Where this would breach patient confidentiality.
  • Where comments bully, harass or make malicious comments about colleagues on line. (A colleague is anyone a doctor works with, whether or not they are also doctors).

One of the key messages in the guidance is that although social media changes the means of communication, the standards expected of doctors do not change when communicating on social media rather than face to face or through other traditional media.

It is important to respect patient confidentiality, whatever medium you are using to communicate...

Facebook and other online groups can provide a useful source of information and support. But doctors need to be careful that they are not sharing identifiable information about patients on social media sites, whether or not those sites are open to the public.