Doctors' use of social media
In Good medical practice1 we say:
36. You must treat colleagues fairly and with respect.
65. You must make sure that your conduct justifies your patients’ trust in you and the public’s trust in the profession.
69. When communicating publicly, including speaking to or writing in the media, you must maintain patient confidentiality. You should remember when using social media that communications intended for friends or family may become more widely available.
70. When advertising your services, you must make sure the information you publish is factual and can be checked, and does not exploit patients’ vulnerability or lack of medical knowledge.
In Confidentiality: good practice in handling patient information2 we say:
118. Many improper disclosures of patient information are unintentional. Conversations in reception areas, at a patient’s bedside and in public places may be overheard. Notes and records may be seen by other patients, unauthorised staff, or the public if they are not managed securely. Patient details can be lost if handover lists are misplaced, or when patient notes are in transit.
119. You must make sure any personal information about patients that you hold or control is effectively protected at all times against improper access, disclosure or loss. You should not leave patients’ records, or other notes you make about patients, either on paper or on screen, unattended. You should not share passwords.
In this guidance, we explain how doctors can put these principles into practice. You must be prepared to explain and justify your decisions and actions. Only serious or persistent failure to follow our guidance that poses a risk to patient safety or public trust in doctors will put your registration at risk.
Using social media has blurred the boundaries between public and private life, and online information can be easily accessed by others. You should be aware of the limitations of privacy online and you should regularly review the privacy settings for each of your social media profiles.4 This is for the following reasons:
- Social media sites cannot guarantee confidentiality whatever privacy settings are in place.
- Patients, your employer and potential employers, or any other organisation that you have a relationship with, may be able to access your personal information.
- Information about your location5 may be embedded within photographs and other content and available for others to see.
- Once information is published online it can be difficult to remove as other users may distribute it further or comment on it.
For practical advice in setting privacy settings for social media sites, see Social media: practical guidance and best practice (2017), published by the British Medical Association.
Such as Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates.
Conflicts of interest
When you post material online, you should be open about any conflict of interest and declare any financial or commercial interests in healthcare organisations or pharmaceutical and biomedical companies.12
You must follow our guidance on financial and commercial arrangements and conflicts of interest. General Medical Council (2013) Financial and commercial arrangements and conflicts of interest London, GMC.