Doctors learn how to treat new media
In the UK, doctors are working on guidelines for the appropriate use of social networks
NEWS THAT the small Scottish island of Jura had taken to social media to recruit a GP made headlines in the UK earlier this month after the ad was posted on a Facebook page entitled Perfect Practice: Idyllic Island GP vacancy.
According to the ad ( facebook.com/PerfectPracticeJura), the islanders are “looking for a doctor to run the medical practice on the beautiful Island of Jura. The Jura community of 200 want to find a candidate who will love the island, as well as look after their health.”
The amount of attention received by this rather unconventional but innovative approach to GP recruitment is testament to the increasing growth of social media in medicine and healthcare.
The expansion of social media over the past decade has made the world a much smaller place for all of those who inhabit that space and doctors are no exception. Facebook is proving a useful patient education tool and Twitter a popular filter for the realms of medical information doctors are bombarded with every day.
However, the use of social media by doctors also raises concerns around issues such as patient confidentiality, the blurring of personal and professional profiles and the importance of maintaining professionalism online at all times.
Earlier this year the General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK held a consultation period with members in relation to developing a new guidance on the use of social media by doctors. The guidance is part of a wider review of the GMC’s Good Medical Practice (2006), its core guidance document for doctors, which is reviewed every five years.
According to the GMC, “the standards expected of doctors do not change because they are communicating through social media rather than face to face, phone or email”.
Commenting on the draft social media guidance, Mr Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: “Online communication has become a key part of every doctor’s personal and professional life, and the use of social media is now very common.
“These newer forms of communication can be incredibly useful but it is important that the standards of behaviour and respect for others which are expected from doctors in the ‘real’ world are also observed online.”
The GMC draft guidelines are available on the council’s website and include guidance on a number of issues including: what to do if a patient contacts a doctor through a private profile, and the importance of not using social media to discuss individual patients or their care.
The GMC will publish the outcome and analysis of the responses received to the consultation later this year.
The Irish Medical Council does not have separate specific guidelines for doctors here on the use of social media.
However, the council stated that a number of paragraphs within its core guide – Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners (2009) – provides guidance to doctors applicable to social media.
According to the council: “The guide is a principle-based document designed to support doctors in decisions regarding conduct and ethics across a diverse range of practice settings and issues so, for example, its provisions on confidentiality apply to doctors in all situations, including social media.”