Festive Facebook risks

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release: Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Doctors are urged to beware of festive social media risks when attending their Christmas work night out, says UK-wide medical defence organisation MDDUS.

Nowadays, the vast majority of people use social media as part of their everyday lives and the increasing popularity of smartphones mean even doctors who are not actively using Facebook or Twitter could end up appearing in pictures on the internet this Christmas.

“Doctors are judged to a professional standard and are never off duty as far as the public are concerned,” says MDDUS Head of Professional Services Dr Jim Rodger. “Their status in the public eye demands a high standard of conduct at all times.

“Doctors are a registered medical practitioner for 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and cannot simply turn off that status at the end of a day’s work or shift.

“They occupy a high status in the community and remain in the public eye. The widespread use of social media has resulted in even greater public scrutiny on healthcare professionals, making it imperative doctors maintain high standards.

“This does not mean that doctors can have no relaxed or anonymous social life and must remain indoors, abstemious and not go to Christmas parties, outings or festivals. However, their behaviour at social gatherings such as the Christmas work night can impact on the way that the public and patients view them and in turn view the wider profession.”

There has been a lot of publicity on the perils of doctors interacting on social media sites and MDDUS has dealt with a growing number of calls on these issues, ranging from inappropriate comments made by patients to more serious issues of online hate campaigns.

When using social media, it can be a fine line between having a bit of fun and bringing the profession into disrepute. For example, posting innocent photographs of the Christmas night out may seem a harmless act, but doctors should consider who might gain access to these pictures.

“A doctor who does not interact on social media can still appear on someone else’s Facebook page, with even the strictest of privacy settings not guaranteeing complete security,” adds Dr Rodger. “Doctors can be vulnerable to complaints even if they do not have any patients as Facebook friends.

“The reason that patients do tell us their secrets and expect us to respect them is because of the ethical principles we must adhere to which are embodied in the Hippocratic Oath,” adds Dr Rodger.

“These promises reinforce the trust that the public and the community places in doctors. To let that trust be undermined would prevent doctors being able to work with patients and act in their interests. That is why this is a fundamental principle of medical ethics that the General Medical Council guards carefully.

“Failure to maintain high standards of conduct and personal behaviour by doctors brings the profession in general into disrepute and thus undermines the trust that the public bestows on doctors.

“Doctors cannot shed their registered mantle when not on duty. Indeed they are never off duty as far as the public are concerned – fair or not. Their status in the public eye demands a high standard of conduct at all times.”

Ends

For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email rihendry@mddus.com.

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK. For further information on MDDUS go to www.mddus.com.

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