The American College of Physicians and Federation of State Medical Boards encourages doctors to always "pause before posting" and not "friend" patients in policy paper "Online Medical Professionalism: Patient and Public Relationships," published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
"Digital communications and social media use continue to increase in popularity among the public and the medical profession," Dr. Phyllis Guze, chairwoman of the Board of Regents, American College of Physicians, said in a statement. "This policy paper provides needed guidance on best practices to inform standards for the professional conduct of physicians online."
The findings, also published at www.acponline.org and www.annals.org, addresses the role of online media and public perception of physician behaviors and strategies for patient-physician communications that preserve confidentiality while best utilizing new technologies.
The recommendations include:
-- Physicians should keep their professional and personal personas separate.
-- E-mail or other electronic communications should only be used by physicians within an established patient-physician relationship and with patient consent.
-- Situations in which a physician is approached via electronic means for clinical advice in the absence of a patient-physician relationship should be handled with judgment and usually should be addressed by an office visit.
-- Establishing a professional profile so that it "appears" first during a search, instead of a physician ranking site, can provide some measure of control that the information read by patients prior to the initial encounter or thereafter is accurate.
-- Many trainees may inadvertently harm their future careers by not responsibly posting material or actively policing their online content.