Healthcare News & Insights

Top social media ‘don’ts’ for doctors, according to state medical boards

As patients turn more often to social media sites to help them make health care decisions, providers are also using those tools to connect with people and reach potential patients. But there are a few dangers providers must watch out for. 

Social networking is a valuable tool for healthcare organizations that can be used to reach potential patients. More people are turning to social networks to search for medical information, and in one recent survey, 41% of patients said that what they find on those sites will affect their choice of doctor. Some hospitals and practices have had a lot of success building marketing campaigns around social media efforts.

But as healthcare organizations ramp up their use of social media, doctors and others must be careful about what they do on those sites. That’s the word from a study conducted by researchers at the University of California San Francisco and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers surveyed members of 48 state medical boards and asked them about 10 hypothetical situations and whether they would be likely to warrant an investigation for unprofessional conduct.

This is how the board members ranked the potential social media mistakes:

  1. Making misleading claims about treatment outcomes (81% said that would spark an investigation)
  2. Inappropriately contacting patients or using their photos (79%)
  3. Using an online dating site to interact with a patient (77%)
  4. Posting photos or status updates depicting alcohol intoxication (73%)
  5. Misrepresenting credentials (71%)
  6. Violating patient confidentiality (65%)
  7. Posting discriminatory speech (60%)
  8. Posting derogatory speech about a patient (46%)
  9. Depicting alcohol consumption without clear signs of intoxication (40%)
  10. Discussing clinical work without violating patient confidentiality (16%)

Researchers cautioned that social media mistakes may lead to other outcomes aside from investigation by a state medical board — including damaged reputations, lawsuits from patients and fines for HIPAA violations.

For more information on what doctors and other medical professionals should and shouldn’t be doing on social networking sites, read our earlier post for advice on how healthcare organizations can get the most out of social media.

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