Protect patient privacy on Facebook, says new guidance

DOCTORS using social media such as Facebook and Twitter must not discuss individual patients online, according to new guidance from the General Medical Council.

An updated version of the GMC’s core guidance, Good Medical Practice (GMP), for the first time contains advice on the use of social media. It warns doctors of the benefits and risks of using social media and of the need to protect patients’ privacy.

It states: “Social media sites cannot guarantee confidentiality whatever privacy settings are in place”, adding: “Once information is published online it can be difficult to remove as other users may distribute it further or comment on it.”

The social media guide is one of several new elements of the updated GMP which comes into force on April 22. It also includes updated advice on maintaining a professional boundary with patients, including intimate examinations and chaperones.

The guidance emphasises that a doctor’s responsibility “goes beyond providing good clinical treatment”, explaining that “the doctor must take a lead role in making sure that patients receive high quality compassionate care and that their dignity is always respected.”

It goes on to provide more detail about doctors’ responsibilities when patients’ basic care needs are not being met, particularly for those patients who are unable to drink, feed or clean themselves.

The review of GMP was launched in 2011 and involved a consultation with more than 2,000 doctors and 4,000 patients.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: “This guidance has never been more vital or relevant – the Mid-Staffs Inquiry has shown how important it is for all health professionals to understand and accept their responsibilities for patient care – Good medical practice spells this out for doctors and they will now have to show, through their annual appraisal, that they are meeting the required standards.”

Access the guidance at http://www.gmc-uk.org/guidance/20477.asp