6 social media sins for doctors – new AHPRA guidelines


By Michael Woodhead

19 Nov 2019

New guidelines on social media use from the Medical Board of Australia have highlighted six ways in which doctors may fall foul of professional conduct codes.

In updated guidelines, the medical regulator warns that retweeting racist memes or posting workplace selfies could land medical practitioners in a tribunal for breaching the code of good medical practice.

The common pitfalls served up in the new guidance put the spotlight on risky social media activities for doctors including cultural safety, maintaining professional patient boundaries and use of social media for making claims about clinical services.

Examples include:

  1. Cultural safety: A health practitioner makes a number of comments on her personal Twitter account saying that Aboriginal patients ‘never show up’, ‘don’t follow medical advice or take care of themselves’ and ‘is it any wonder there’s a health gap’.
  2. Patient confidentiality: A hospital staff member responds to being tagged in a Facebook update from a friend, saying that their relative is making a good recovery, without realizing that the personal clinical details are being made available in a public post.
  3. Professionalism: After resigning from a hospital due to perceived lack of support and unfair treatment, a practitioner makes negative comments online about their workplace, the management and some work colleagues.
  4. Advertising claims: A practitioner states on their personal site that acupuncture and herbs are an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which has been proven to be a very safe and effective healthcare modality in Australia.’
  5. Doctor-patient boundaries: A doctor starts a conversation on a dating website and soon identifies the other person as his patient, but continues the discussion. The practitioner offers treatment suggestions for a cold, comments on the person’s physical attractiveness and offers a house-call late at night.
  6. Public health messages: A health practitioner posts statements questioning the value of vaccines on their personal Facebook profile.

The Medical Board says the new guideline apply to all different forms of social media including social and professional networking sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp and LinkedIn) , discussion forums such as Reddit, media sharing sites such as YouTube, and Instagram, blogs, Wikipedia and also to booking sites and apps such as HealthEngine and WhiteCoat.

It says that under the National Scheme, every health practitioner has a responsibility to behave ethically online and to justify the trust placed in them by the public.

“Inappropriate use of social media can result in harm to patients and the profession, particularly given the changing nature of privacy and the capacity for material to be posted by others … therefore it’s important that you are very careful about what you like or post online-regardless of where in the world the site is based or the language used.”

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