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A Guide to Being an Ethical Digital Doc


If you ask physicians the most intimidating part of their practice, many of them would state the challenge of online communication with patients.

Virtual communications through digital platforms is a major challenge for physicians in the 21st century. The intersection of health and technology has brought along an entirely new segment of online health consumers, many of whom prefer to be their own health advocates. The changes derived from the Affordable Care Act and growing demands of empowered patients have put pressure on physicians who juggle hectic work schedules.

While these new platforms provide a better method for physicians to directly communicate with patients and market themselves, many are not taught online marketing skills in medical school. Though many of them have embraced digitalization and are adopting these changed practices, dealing with the new mode of virtual communication is still something that has to be overcome.

While interacting with patients on a digital platform, physicians should always adhere to the roots of this noble profession: Humanism, integrity, ethics, professionalism, and trust. The American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards have recommendations for online medical professionalism.

Emerging digital trends will continue to change the landscape of the physician-patient relationship. As this change is here to stay, physicians must familiarize themselves with these technologies to guide themselves and their patients. To expand practice in this new horizon, ethically and responsibly, physicians must always keep in mind the following:

• Privacy and confidentiality of patient information should always be the top priority. While using any online platform, physicians should be mindful of standards for patient privacy and confidentiality. They should adopt a conservative approach for disclosing personal information about any patient, as online channels are public and can be accessed by anyone.

• Physicians are encouraged to take a proactive approach to managing their digital identity by routinely performing surveillance of publicly available materials. Moreover, physicians who use social media channels to communicate with patients should familiarize themselves with the privacy settings and terms of agreements for those social media networks. They should maintain strict privacy settings on personal accounts.

• While interacting 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. Overstepping these boundaries may result in serious detrimental impact to their career. Professional distance and privacy are appropriate for both physician and patient.

• As a physician, it’s your responsibility to provide factual and concise information, declare any conflicts of interest and adopt a sober tone when discussing professional matters. Your patients and other people following you on the social sites refer to what you have written, will assume that you have provided medically correct information and may act upon it or make decisions on its basis.

It’s said that physicians are lifelong learners when it comes to technology, new drug delivery methods, the latest treatments, and so on. Now they have another big item on the list: learn and embrace digital health. All they need is to be mindful and reflective of their professional commitments and work ethics while discovering better ways to engage and care for patients.

Manish Chauhan is Digital Marketing Manager at myPracticeReputation which is an easy-to-use reputation management solution for physicians to help monitor, protect and promote their medical practices at all times in the simplest way possible.

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