Online Social Media And Maintaining Medical Professionalism

A resource to assist doctors and medical students to maintain professional standards when using online social media has today been launched by the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA).

The guide – Social Media and the Medical Profession – was developed jointly by the Australian Medical Association, the NZMA, the New Zealand Medical Students’ Association, and the Australian Medical Students’ Association.

NZMA Chair Dr Peter Foley says that as participation rates in online media have increased, some evidence has emerged from overseas that the use of these media can pose risks for medical professionals if used inappropriately.

“The guide is intended to assist doctors and medical students to continue to enjoy the online world safely, in areas such as Facebook and personal blogs, while also exercising caution so that they do not place themselves or their patients in awkward situations. Ethical issues continue to apply such as patient confidentiality and the doctor-patient boundary. Maintaining professionalism is essential.”

Examples of practical advice in the guide include not posting information online that can identify a patient or situation, being mindful of making comments about colleagues or employers and having appropriate privacy settings on social networking sites so that patients cannot access a doctor’s entire profile.

“Awareness of the potential issues that can arise through the use of social media, and putting a few simple safeguards in place such as careful consideration of online public comments, will enable doctors and medical students to enjoy social media without negative repercussions. Regulations regarding professional behaviour must evolve to encompass new forms of media.”

Dr Foley says that guide is a valuable tool that will assist doctors to maintain professional standards and ethical responsibilities while participating in social media.

The guide is available on the NZMA website at