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Can social media posts damage your medical career?

You may expect certain repercussions if you made a mistake in your medical or nursing practice. A surgical error, medication mistake or misdiagnosis can injure a patient as well as jeopardize your medical license and career. However, did you know that changing your Facebook status could have a similar effect?

It may seem ridiculous to think that your social media status could cause someone harm or even place your California license to practice medicine at risk. Nevertheless, if a post violates the privacy rights of one of your patients, it could have far-reaching consequences.

Examples of privacy and other violations

Federal laws protect patient privacy and allow for confidentiality between patients and their medical professionals. You understand this, so you guard patient records and refrain from sharing medical information with unauthorized people. However, like many medical professionals, you may have a mistaken idea that your social media posts are your personal business or that your privacy settings will protect you. This is not always true. Your right to free speech does not protect you from losing your job or facing disciplinary actions for any of the following:

  • Posting pictures of patients without their knowledge, even as a public service announcement, such as to show the effects to drinking too much
  • Posting photos of patients in embarrassing situations just for laughs, even if you do not show their faces
  • Using your social media to comment about specific patients who have died or suffered tragedies, even as a way to offer condolences
  • Using your social media to post rants about your patients or coworkers
  • Making inflammatory or racist remarks that may suggest you would have difficulty treating all patients with the same standard of care

Privacy laws allow many patients to seek help when they need it or to speak honestly with their doctors who can then provide the medical treatment they require. Patients who fear their names, faces or stories will end up on Facebook may be reluctant to reach out for help at critical times, and this could be a matter of life and death.

If you are called before the California licensing board of your profession to face allegations of breaching patient privacy through your social media posts, you have a lot at stake. You have the right to legal counsel for any administrative or licensing matter, and you would do well to seek an attorney who has experience defending medical professionals. Such an attorney will understand the process and have the skills to protect your future.

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