James Nibert HCA 656 Extra Credit Assignment 12-01-10 Healthcare Professionalism in the Age of Social Media Introduction Social media, like the postal letter, telephone and e-mail before it, has revolutionized the ways in which people communicate in the modern world. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have hundreds of millions of users that have chosen this medium to communicate with the world at large. Blogs, Wikis and podcasts further contribute to the dominant communication tool of the modern world: social media.
This new form of communication has been quickly adopted by professionals of all varieties, but it has specific implications for physicians and related healthcare professionals. As the ability of a physician to effectively perform their job, and for the patient to respect the physician’s advice, is dependent on the trust between them, at what point does the physician’s private life in terms of social media begin to affect his or her professional life? It is estimated that 59% of American adults searched for medical advice online in a 12 month period.
Included in these searches were many reviews of a physician’s conduct and abilities (McKay, 2010). As this new form of communication becomes increasingly more common, medical professionals will need to take precautions to insulate themselves both legally and ethically, and to retain the trust of their patients that is vital to the effective functioning of their job. Methodology The methodology of this research paper was conducted in the most systematic way possible given the time and resource limitations of the project.
In should be noted that this particular field of study, while increasingly popular, is still very recent and thus limited in terms of depth and availability of appropriate sources. The search began initially with a search of Google using the phrases, “professionalism and online healthcare,” “Health 2. 0 and professionalism,” “ethics and online healthcare,” and “healthcare professionalism and social media. ” The results of these searches produced several redundancies of the same useful articles.
This was followed up with a search of EbscoHost and Academic Search Premiere using the phrases “healthcare and social media,” and “professionalism, healthcare and social media. ” This resulted in the discovery of three additional articles. Finally, the search was aided by Dr. Alberto Coustasse who directed the search to several previously undiscovered articles. Discussion Maintaining a strict sense of professionalism is vital to many careers, but is essential to the duties of a physician.
Doctors that have lost the respect or trust of those they treat can no longer perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. It has been previously demonstrated that social media has the ability to create a rapid reaction to a perceived problem. In 2008 the group Doctors for Obama mobilized thousands of physicians on Facebook to make their opinions and concerns about the new healthcare policy known, with the effect of having a demonstrable influence on the final legislation and an ongoing voice in President Obama’s healthcare agenda (Jain, 2009).
A similar effect, though on a smaller scale, could be anticipated from a physician’s faux paus distributed widely through social media. A study conducted in 2008, focusing on the social networking site Facebook (by far the most popular social networking site in the U. S), showed that of medical students and residents of a selected sample group 44. 5% had a Facebook account and two-thirds of them kept their account public with “ … a significant portion having subjectively inappropriate content” (Thompson, et al. 008). Some examples drawn from a 2008 study including public Facebook groups created by medical students with titles such as “PIMP” (Party of Important Male Physicians), “Keep your fu***ing hand down and shut the f**k up during lecture” and “Physicians looking for trophy wives in training” (Thompson et al, 2008) The public profiles selected by this study disclosed physicians home postal address (6. 1% of the time), field of study (79. 6%), email address (83. %) and sexual orientation (52. 4%). While the impact of such information was not followed up on, at least to this date, by the study, it is easy to ascertain how such sensitive and personal information could lead to trouble for a physician whose public social networking profile angered a patient. In addition to the possible personal consequences at risk to a physician, unprofessional conduct on social networking sites could also have unintended professional and legal consequences as well.
As stated, “Already the first lawsuits have been filed against physicians whom patients accused of violating the privacy of medical information acts, notes attorney Robert Coffield, a West Virginia- based specialist in health care compliance and regulatory law” (Hawn, 2009). A doctor who, for example, blogged about their trials in dealing with a difficult patient—in a way that would make such a client identifiable—and forgot that either the patient or a family member or friend had been added to their social network would be inviting litigation with possible monetary and professional penalties.
In addition, physicians, even with the best of intentions, offering medical advice over social media platforms without a professional agreement are subject to litigation from numerous people. The importance of professionalism and the threat posed to it by the burgeoning social media outlets has been noticed and considered by professional organizations including the American Medical Association. In 2010 the AMA released an official policy on professionalism in the use of social media.
It warns that, “Physicians should weigh a number of considerations when maintaining a presence online” (AMA, 2010). It is stated in line f of the policy that, “Physicians must recognize the actions online and content posted may negatively affect their reputations among patients and colleagues, may have consequences for their medical careers (particularly for physicians in training and medical students), and can undermine public trust in the medical profession” (AMA, 2010).
To this end the AMA outlines a policy that encourages the use of privacy settings to safeguard personal information on social networking sites, be vigilant of observing and maintaining all patient privacy legislation and safeguard at all times the boundaries of the patient/client relationship while online. It further states that it is a physician’s responsibility to make colleagues aware of any objectionable material on their own profiles and to report illegal or unethical behavior to the proper authorities. Conclusion
It must be noted that while physicians must certainly be entitled to the same freedoms and liberties that the rest of us enjoy, it is in both their personal and professional interest to maintain boundaries between these two segments in their lives. As an alternative there are social networking sites dedicated to only medical professionals such as Medscape. Like elected officials, law enforcement and school teachers; it is essential to the effective functioning of their duties for physicians to achieve and maintain both the professional distance and trust of those in their charge.
Following the previously discussed AMA guidelines is an initial step towards achieving that goal and avoiding many unforeseen and unintended consequences.
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American Medical Association. (2010) AMA Policy: Professionalism in the Use of Social Media. Retrieved December 1, 2010 from www. ama-assn. org/ama/pub/meeting/professionalism-social-media. html