- Physicians should be cognizant of standards of patient privacy and confidentiality that must be maintained in all environments, including online, and must refrain from posting identifiable patient information online.
- When using the Internet for social networking, physicians should use privacy settings to safeguard personal information and content to the extent possible, but should realize that privacy settings are not absolute and that once on the Internet, content is likely there permanently. Thus, physicians should routinely monitor their own Internet presence to ensure that the personal and professional information on their own sites and, to the extent possible, content posted about them by others, is accurate and appropriate.
- If they interact with patients on the Internet, physicians must maintain appropriate boundaries of the patient-physician relationship in accordance with professional ethical guidelines just, as they would in any other context.
- To maintain appropriate professional boundaries physicians should consider separating personal and professional content online.
- When physicians see content posted by colleagues that appears unprofessional they have a responsibility to bring that content to the attention of the individual, so that he or she can remove it and/or take other appropriate actions. If the behavior significantly violates professional norms and the individual does not take appropriate action to resolve the situation, the physician should report the matter to appropriate authorities.
- Physicians must recognize that 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.
This should be self-evident, but the guiding principle is to respect doctor/patient confidentiality. Medical professionals should not talk about cases with information that could be traced back to a specific patient.
While medical professionals should strive to keep their personal information separate from their professional information, even locking down the private information does not guarantee that only a limited audience will see it. Medical professionals should be aware that the image they put out online can be damaging if patients see it.
Physicians should never over-step their boundaries of a professional relationship with their patients. It is not a good idea to "friend" patients or enter into discussions that they would not otherwise contribute to in a professional environment.
As mentioned above, medical professionals should maintain a separate private profile that is limited to just friends and family, while allowing others to access a more limited public profile. Patients finding more personal information about their physicians could damage the professionalism that physicians strive to maintain.
While physicians should self-regulate their information, they also should regulate the information of their colleagues. If something is seen as inappropriate, first contact the poster to deal with it. If the colleague does not abide by proper action, going to a higher official is warranted.
As mentioned above, patients and the public can access a tremendous amount of information online. If inappropriate content is found related to a physician, the professional respect could be damaged, not only for the physician but the medical field in general. Physicians should be conscious of what they are posting and in what context.