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“Trust Me, I’m a Doctor on Twitter”

September 20, 2021

Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons issues guidelines for physician use of social media

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario recently released a document entitled Social Media—Appropriate Use by Physicians, the stated goal of which was to provide “guidance to physicians about how to engage in social media while continuing to meet relevant legal and professional obligations.” The document notes that it is not itself a policy or formal means of establishing rules for conduct, but rather is intended to help physicians comply with existing professional expectations “in the social media sphere.”

The guidelines recommend that physicians:

  1. Assume that all content on the Internet is public and accessible to all.
  2. Exercise caution when posting information online that relates to an actual patient, in order to ensure compliance with legal and professional obligations to maintain privacy and confidentiality. Bear in mind that an unnamed patient may still be identified through a range of other information, such as a description of their clinical condition, or area of residence.
  3. Refrain from providing clinical advice to specific patients through social media. It is acceptable, however, to use social media to disseminate generic medical or health information for educational or information sharing purposes.
  4. Protect their own reputation, the reputation of the profession, and the public trust by not posting content that could be viewed as unprofessional.
  5. Be mindful of their Internet presence, and be proactive in removing content posted by themselves or others which may be viewed as unprofessional.
  6. Refrain from establishing personal connections with patients or persons closely associated with them online, as this may not allow physicians to maintain appropriate professional boundaries and may compromise physicians’ objectivity. It is acceptable to create an online connection with patients for professional purposes only.
  7. Refrain from seeking out patient information that may be available online without prior consent.
  8. Read, understand, and apply the strictest privacy settings necessary to maintain control over access to their personal information, and social media presence undertaken for personal purposes only.
  9. Remember that social media platforms are constantly evolving, and be proactive in considering how professional expectations apply in any given set of circumstances.

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