Matthew DeCamp, a postdoctoral fellow in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's Division of General Internal Medicine, says without such information -- standard practice when publishing in medical journals and recommended in one-on-one contacts with patients -- consumers are left in the dark.
"As physicians and patients increasingly interact online, the standards of appropriate behavior become really unclear," DeCamp, who also holds a fellowship at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, said.
Part of the problem, he said, is that some prominent medical societies have failed to lay out comprehensive guidelines for physicians on when and how to disclose a conflict of interest when using social media.
"In light of norms of disclosure accepted throughout medicine, it's surprising that major medical guidelines fail to adequately address this issue," DeCamp said in a commentary published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
While use of social media has the potential to improve patient care and trust by increasing patient access to information, DeCamp said, vigorous online "boundaries" are needed not only to assure privacy and confidentiality but also to protect patients from misinformation and biased advice.