Commentary

Young Docs Unfamiliar With Social Media Policies

The rise of social media has major implications for the practice of medicine, as it does for virtually every other profession, but most young doctors are unfamiliar with the policies set out by their employers to govern their own social media activity, including interactions with patients. That’s according to a new study by researchers at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

The researchers polled 70 medical residents from nine medical specialties and found that 86% had a social media account of some kind, while 51% said they regularly use an image messaging app like Snapchat or Flickr. Despite this, only 29% of respondents said they were familiar with their institutions’ policies regarding social media, including rules covering privacy and professionalism, and 80% said they are not worried about online privacy.

Unsurprisingly, this lack of familiarity with social media policies was correlated with incorrect responses about several important areas of activity. For example, among those familiar with institutional policies, 63% correctly answered that it was discouraged to post a photo of a colleague online, compared to 32% of those who were unfamiliar. Similarly, 100% of those who were familiar knew it was never okay to post a photo of a patient even when no identifying details are visible, compared to 78% of those unfamiliar with the policies.

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The researchers attributed much of this ignorance to lack of training in medical school. Thus 100% of respondents who didn’t receive training on social media in medical school said it was okay to accept a social media invitation from a professional acquaintance with whom no significant social or professional relationship exists, compared to 72% of respondents who received training in medical school.

Likewise, 67% of respondents with prior training answered correctly that it is “never okay” to interact with patients via social media, compared to just 35% of respondents without prior training.

While doctors are under considerable constraints when it comes to using social media in the workplace, patients seem to be relatively open to the idea. Last year a study published in the medical journal BMJ Quality and Safety surveyed over 5,000 emergency room patients about their willingness to link their social media accounts to their medical records. Over half of respondents used Facebook of Twitter, and among these 71% said they would give doctors access to their social media accounts, in order to uncover possible clues to help with diagnosis and treatment.

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