How much of a social media profile can doctors have?

(This post is my rapid response published online by BMJ on 13 Feb 2012 in response to the ┬ájournal’s paper published 23 Jan 2012)
How much of a social media profile can doctors have? The answer is – as much of a profile as they have in real life. There is no distinction between social media and reality. So many words are posted/blogged/published about how social media is somehow different. It is not.

Should you say ‘yes’ if a patient rang you and said she wanted to be your friend? No. Therefore non-commercial Facebook access is out.

Should you say ‘leave the room please’ if a patient attended one of your public lectures? No. Therefore Twitter for education is fine.

Should you identify a patient in conversation on a crowded lift/in a public canteen/on public transport? No. Therefore you don’t identify them on social media.

In fact, should you talk to anyone about a patient apart from referring doctors/legal guardians/in court? No.

Should you discuss the operation/resuscitation/disease of an anonymous patient to a group at at party? No. Therefore you don’t do this on social media.

We learnt about this in medical school, as I did 40 years ago. Doctors can and should involve themselves in social media because, as the Mayo Clinic says: ‘Our patients are doing it, that’s where we need to be’

We cannot legislate or pontificate against stupidity. It requires the same undergraduate education about ethics that has been taught since Hippocrates.

The distinction between social media and real life is moot. Arguments about permanent storage and retrieval of your comments are irrelevant.

As I have said elsewhere, being Social on Professional Media – It’s Not Rocket Science

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