The digital age has created a whole host of opportunities in medicine, as well as problems. Doctors are now confronted with a dizzying array of ethical and professional issues that can erupt over something as simple as an online post.
Complaints about professionalism can quickly lead to a medical board hearing — faster even than complaints about poor medical care. If you’re a physician, that means that you need to be aware that your online professionalism is a growing area of concern to the medical board. Physicians need to be very careful about everything they do online — whether it’s in a professional capacity while responding to a Yelp review on their practice or when posting on their own Facebook page.
For example, imagine that a dissatisfied patient goes online and gives your pain clinic — and you — a terrible review. The patient may even say things that are entirely untrue. If you respond by firing back, alluding to the idea that you believed the patient was merely drug seeking (even if you don’t say it directly), you could be guilty of violating the patient’s confidentiality.
There are other online practices that might cause a review board to question your ability to practice effective medicine or doubt your professionalism. For example, you need to maintain a professional distance with your patients. Therefore, “friending” them on Facebook or contacting them by email for something unrelated to their medical care is never appropriate.
Similarly, if you post online in public forums, it’s also important to watch what you say. Derogatory language toward your patients — even if you are attempting to be humorous — could also land you in ethical trouble.
The best way to avoid a medical board review is to stay informed about the biggest areas of concern and to educate yourself about the expectations placed on a physician’s behavior in the current age. You won’t have to defend your license to practice if the board can’t find any reason to question your professionalism in the first place.