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News - April 2012

New draft guidance for doctors on social media

25 April 2012

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DOCTORS should avoid using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to discuss individual patient care, according to new draft guidance from the General Medical Council.

Interacting with patients through personal social media profiles should also be avoided. Social Media for Doctors says doctors should instead direct patients to their professional social media accounts and ensure privacy settings limit the availability of personal information.

The use of social media, the draft guidance says, has "blurred the boundaries between 'public' and 'private' and changed the way in which online aspects of private lives are accessible."

The draft guidance, which will be out to consultation until June 13, makes recommendations about privacy online, interacting with patients through social media, behaving respectfully towards colleagues online, anonymity, raising concerns, confidentiality and conflicts of interest.

It recognises that doctors' use of social media has the "potential to bring benefits to patient care by engaging with the public and colleagues" but it also has risks. It advises: "If a patient contacts you through a private profile, you should explain that it is not appropriate to mix social and professional relationships and, where appropriate, direct them to your professional profile."

It also warns doctors that, although individual pieces of information may not endanger a patient’s confidentiality, the sum of information published online could be enough to identify a patient.

Doctors should also be aware that postings online are subject to the same laws of copyright and defamation as written or oral communications and that any material written by authors who represent themselves as doctors could well be taken to represent the views of the profession more widely.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: "Online communication has become a key part of every doctor’s personal and professional life, and the use of social media is now very common. These newer forms of communication can be incredibly useful but it is important that the standards of behaviour and respect for others which are expected from doctors in the 'real' world are also observed online."

The GMC is seeking views on two other new pieces of guidance relating to delegation and referral as well as how doctors should accept and terminate job posts. Six existing pieces of guidance are also being reviewed.

To take part in the GMC’s consultation, visit https://gmc.e-consultation.net/econsult by June 13.