Patients increasingly want access to their care providers, including via e-communication. In fact, a recent article in US News and World Report actually suggested that patients consider quitting a doctor who won’t communicate with them electronically. While many practices have policies governing e-mail communication with patients—they either do not use it or have specific guidance on when and how it should be done—it seems relatively few practices have policies for use of general social media networks like Facebook and Twitter or professionally-focused sites like LinkedIn or Sermo. What is a PA to do?
Common sense and a sense of professional responsibility go a long way toward helping care providers use social media appropriately. When in doubt, legal counsel may be needed. A Social Media Toolkit developed by the Ohio State Medical Association (OSMA) may be useful as clinicians and practices explore the use of social media. You can access the toolkit online at www.osma.org/socialmediapolicy. While practice policies or local laws would clearly supersede the OSMA guidelines, they may offer a reasonable starting point for clarification on specific questions.
PAs using social media may consider some basic issues before registering or using certain sites. For example, it may be wise to create two accounts—one professional and one private— on sites like Twitter and Facebook. Better still, consider creating a “Business” page for the medical practice on Facebook, which offers features different from standard personal accounts. Be careful about networking with patients on private accounts, and avoid providing any specific medical advice or directly addressing a medical question via any sites, especially if the response will be posted publicly.
Posting links to recent health news or research on a regular basis may be a reasonable way to use social media to extend care. For example, your personal friends and your patients may be interested in a report on the new FDA sunscreen labeling. However, posting such links in response to a specific patient query may be construed as offering medical advice.
While the question whether conduct on personal sites should affect professional opportunities remains murky, consider that current and potential employers may view your social media pages and that what you post may shape their opinion of you as a candidate or employee.
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