AMA's Social Media Guidelines Reflect Common Sense for Clinicians

May 25, 2012

Want to have a presence in social media as a clinician? Follow the AMA's guidelines, which reflect common sense.

I have always been an early adopter of technology and software because I’m fascinated with the potential it can have to make my life easier, but also want to make sure I stay current with the rapid pace of technological change.

I spend a lot of time on social networks, including Twitter, Linkedin, and Facebook, and my tastes in participation tend towards professional leadership, news, and politics. It never ceases to amaze me what folks (and some of my professional colleagues...) will post online for the entire world to see.

Everyone needs to take heed of the warning that once it is on the Internet, it is essentially there forever and ever.

There is a real, and sometimes career-damaging, potential about putting one’s thoughts out in the open, something I remind the steady stream of medical and physician assistant students when they rotate through our busy plastic and reconstructive surgery practice.

Employers use social media to find out more about employees and candidates, and who’s to say that patients aren’t Googling you right now? There is a unique challenge to clinicians to deal with professional and personal social media engagement.

There is a simple, common-sense approach to this laid down by the AMA in 2010. They provided guidance to their members and physicians in general that I think make sense for every type of medical and business profession that wants to have a "presence" in social media.

The guidelines are simple, and informed by common sense:
• Don’t post anything that you don’t want to see on cable news or in the newspaper the next morning.
• NEVER post anything about patients, even in a general non-identifying manner, or you may be in violation of HIPAA.
• Understand the privacy settings and policies of the various social media that you use on a regular basis, and review those settings and policies regularly as they change often, at least on Facebook and Twitter.

Healthcare professionals need to keep their professional and personal online identities separate and compartmentalized, especially if you receive “friend” requests from current and former patients. The ethical constraints and considerations of nonprofessional relationships with the people that we care for have been significantly complicated in the Internet age, and we need to continue to explore and establish boundaries that protect the patients that we serve, as well as our own personal security.

While I really enjoy the dramatically expanded contact that I have with colleagues and friends all over the world, I miss the actual “human moment” that seems to rapidly disappearing from our lives as we stare into our digital devices many hours a day. That is the reality in which we find ourselves in the modern world. As professionals, and as members of society, we have to adapt to this change in a way that both works for us, and protects the people entrusted to us for health care.

I really enjoy training the medical and PA students that rotate with us, and do my very best to stay current and one step ahead of them when it comes to technology like EHRs and social media. That is a difficult task when considering that these younger adults were raised in the Internet era, and I was raised in the era of the rotary phone and the 8-track tape. Part of being a relevant healthcare professional in this day and age requires a sound understand of the risks and benefits of social media.

With that in mind, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @shhanson.

Find out more about Stephen Hanson and our other Practice Notes bloggers.

This blog was provided in partnership with the American Academy of Physician Assistants.