A quick browse of your social media feeds tell the story: people like to talk about funny or weird stuff that happens throughout the day and share their professional accomplishments online. Your friend who works in marketing might share the new promotional video they've been working on for a client, or your friend who works at an animal shelter might share a photo of the happy family who recently adopted a dog. You want to join in on the fun of sharing, but should you as a medical professional?
Privacy laws protect patients
You're probably well aware of the laws that protect patient privacy including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). These laws provide guidance on the personal information that you can or can't share about patients with other parties. However, the emergence of new technology and social media can make it difficult to know where the line is between personal and public.
For example, the Navy recently began an investigation into two hospital corpsmen who posted inappropriate videos of newborn babies on Snapchat. In this case, the investigation could be less about the perceived harm of the videos and more about the integrity and trust needed by medical professionals in their daily work. With new media comes new rules, and sometimes the rule isn't clear until it is broken.
Rules for social media
The Royal College of General Practitioners wrote a guidebook for medical professionals called the Social Media Highway Code that shares online best practices. Here are some insights from the guidebook that provide additional nuances to emerging social media:
1. Even changing personal information can give away identity
Many patients have unique medical conditions or circumstances. If you post on social media about a patient's condition or the time of day you saw them that could provide enough information that allows others to piece together their identity.
2. Don't give personal advice over social media
People trust your opinion as a medical professional, but the public nature of social media platforms can take that too far when it comes to the personal health of patients. Sharing information meant for a broad audience with a call to action to see a professional could be better than attempting to answer the personal questions of everyone online.
Social media is a fun way to interact with friends and family, but some situations can blur the line between personal and professional. Understanding the social media practices of other medical professionals can help you improve your discretion online.