In a blog post published on the General Medical Council’s (GMC) website,  Howard Lewis, the GMC’s Regional Liaison Adviser for South East England wrote:

What complaints are being levelled at doctors regarding their use of social media?

Failing to maintain trust can be when a doctor divulges sensitive information or makes remarks that cause offence on social media, for example, making inappropriate remarks about a medical director on a social media platform. These complaints almost tripled between 2019 and 2020, rising from 107 to 308.

Breach of confidentiality means a doctor has posted confidential patient information over a social media platform, for example, a doctor posts a confidential extract from a patient’s medical records on Facebook. Breach of confidentiality on social media has a much lower complaint rate but nearly tripled between 2019 and 2020, rising from 10 to 28.

Social media safety

Professional boundaries: social media means that you can be communicating with people you might not otherwise communicate with in person. That can bring more opportunities for something to go wrong and for professionalism to slip. Be aware that you have no control over images and comments once you release them online, and what you think might just be between a few friends can quickly go viral.

  • Always stay on top of privacy settings and keep them updated.
  • If you identify as a doctor in a publicly accessible social media you should identify yourself by name. Any time that you represent yourself as a doctor your views could be taken as the views of the profession as a whole. And remember, when you upload anything onto social media anonymously this can often be traced back to its point of origin.
  • Be open about conflicts of interest and declare financial or commercial interests in healthcare organisations or pharmaceutical and biomedical companies.

Confidentiality: Doctors rarely set out to deliberately breach confidentiality; it usually occurs by accident. The same dangers are present with social media, but the audit trail is much clearer. For example, a doctor tweeting from their surgery describing patients (without names) or their circumstances may well inadvertently identify individuals, especially in small communities.

A simple checklist to keep you safe online:

  • Always make patient care your first concern.
  • Apply GMC guidance. Be your professional and ethical self, adhering to the standards set out in Good medical practice.
  • Think beyond social media and be mindful using any online tool for communication.
  • Proactively manage your personal and professional profile online.
  • Regularly audit privacy settings and your connections.
  • If you make a mistake, seek appropriate advice quickly and make notes on your reflections and actions.
  • And finally, don’t worry – it’s straightforward. There are so many benefits. enjoy your time online.
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