Social Media Guidance

Social media in medicine and medical education 

Social media offers new opportunities to connect with fellow students and doctors.  Many organisations, such as the GMC and the BMA, politicians, and medical journals are actively using social media and discussions of various aspects of the professional lives of doctors are increasingly seen on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Students and doctors are finding and creating new ways to learn together, using these powerful tools. #quclms is an example of this, run by staff at UCL Medical School.

Don’t get caught out

Some students and doctors have concerns about using social media due to it’s public nature. It is important to think about the implications of what you write and consider your professional as well as your personal identity. Twitter in particular is completely open to the public so anyone can read anything that is tweeted. Even if you have adjusted your privacy settings, you need to be careful what you are publishing and be aware that Facebook may not be as closed as you think. And remember, that anything on the internet exists forever! Even if you delete a tweet or post it may still exist, due to copying or caching, and be found by future friends, employers and patients.

Whenever you post anything online you need to think about professionalism, in particular:

  • patient confidentiality
  • consent to publish details about patients
  • respecting your colleagues

You need to think carefully about patient confidentiality. Even if a single tweet could not breach confidentiality, if you wrote a series of tweets that disclosed where you were, what day you saw a patient, and details of their age and condition this may make them identifiable. Just be careful!

There is guidance available for doctors and students:

We want to help you make the most of the great resources and opportunities available through social media, but also want to make sure you do not inadvertently get yourself into trouble.

Our top ten tips are:

  1. Avoid posting anything that might breach confidentiality
  2. Respect others’ privacy – this includes fellow students and teachers as well as patients and carers
  3. Be honest and show integrity
  4. Avoid any discriminatory language and consider how jokes or ‘harmless comments’ may be interpreted out of context
  5. Decide whether to be anonymous or identifiable. Think about why you have made that decision and how it may affect what you post.
  6. Think about what image your posts project of you: do you want the public, your future patients and employers, to know about your night out, your hangover or your dislike of a particular public figure?
  7. Always be courteous, even when you don’t feel like it. Discussion and debate are positive aspects of social media, but should be conducted courteously and professionally.
  8. Look at your facebook privacy settings and think about whether you need to restrict them. Those Rugby tour photos may not be suitable for general viewing!
  9. Remember that Twitter is completely open to the public. If you wouldn’t shout something in the middle of Kings Cross, don’t say it on Twitter
  10. If you’re not sure whether to write something ask yourself: what if your mates read it? What if your Mum read it? What if Prof Dacre read it? What if the GMC read it?

Other more general guidance on ‘netiquette’ is available from the BBC Webwise site, and from a site on study guides and strategies, which provides the “ten commandments of email netiquette“.

We hope that you enjoy making full use of the educational and professional opportunities available through social media and hope that these tips will prevent you running into problems. If you have any questions please get in touch.

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