The American Medical Association recently published a policy on "Professionalism in the Use of Social Media," in an apparent attempt to address growing concerns about patient confidentiality and privacy in various internet settings.
While the policy mostly consists of "considerations" that physicians should "weigh" when maintaining an online presence (none of which are new or earth-shattering), there was one notable exception — a snitch rule:
"When physicians see content posted by colleagues that appears unprofessional they have a responsibility to bring that content to the attention of the individual, so that he or she can remove it and/or take other appropriate actions. If the behavior significantly violates professional norms and the individual does not take appropriate action to resolve the situation, the physician should report the matter to appropriate authorities."
The specific considerations in the AMA policy are as follows:
(a) Physicians should be cognizant of standards of patient privacy and confidentiality that must be maintained in all environments, including online, and must refrain from posting identifiable patient information online.
(b) When using the Internet for social networking, physicians should use privacy settings to safeguard personal information and content to the extent possible, but should realize that privacy settings are not absolute and that once on the Internet, content is likely there permanently. Thus, physicians should routinely monitor their own Internet presence to ensure that the personal and professional information on their own sites and, to the extent possible, content posted about them by others, is accurate and appropriate.
(c) If they interact with patients on the Internet, physicians must maintain appropriate boundaries of the patient-physician relationship in accordance with professional ethical guidelines just, as they would in any other context.
(d) To maintain appropriate professional boundaries physicians should consider separating personal and professional content online.
(e) When physicians see content posted by colleagues that appears unprofessional they have a responsibility to bring that content to the attention of the individual, so that he or she can remove it and/or take other appropriate actions. If the behavior significantly violates professional norms and the individual does not take appropriate action to resolve the situation, the physician should report the matter to appropriate authorities.
(f) Physicians must recognize that actions online and content posted may negatively affect their reputations among patients and colleagues, may have consequences for their medical careers (particularly for physicians-in-training and medical students), and can undermine public trust in the medical profession.
It is clear that social media is not going away. When healthcare providers get online it is important they follow this policy in order address patient privacy and confidentiality. We have noted that many healthcare providers are not getting online because they are concerned with legality of SM and violating HIPAA.
See further discussion and citation of this entry at http://pharmaexecnews.com/biotechnology/docs-police-social-media/