You saw that? Social Media Smarts for Physicians

March 14, 2016
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Online Smarts for DoctorsA doctor grabs a drink with friends after work and afterwards posts a picture of himself and his friends, smiling with a beer in their hands. No big deal, right? Except the doctor still had his scrubs on, and it might lead folks to think he was drinking on the job, or at least right before work.

Online Smarts for DoctorsA doctor grabs a drink with friends after work and afterwards posts a picture of himself and his friends, smiling with a beer in their hands. No big deal, right? Except the doctor still had his scrubs on, and it might lead folks to think he was drinking on the job, or at least right before work.

College athletic coaches are putting out the word in recent months – do something stupid online, and we will pull your scholarship faster than you can say “snapchat.” College coaches aren’t the only ones checking out online profiles – so are medical schools, employers and potential patients.

Think before you post

One research study revealed most deans of medical schools who were surveyed stated they were aware of students posting unprofessional content online. The infractions range from posting pics of drug paraphernalia to violations of patient privacy. The Journal of the American Medical Association found 47 of 78 medical school deans knew of unprofessional online conduct by its students, even though fewer than 40% of schools had policies regulating such behavior.

The results of such infractions ranged from warning to expulsion. You thought getting into medical school was hard the first time. Imagine doing so after being expelled for extremely poor judgment.

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A quick YouTube search found hundreds of posted videos from nursing and medical students – lots of tutorials, a few journal-type entries, and some pranks – even one including what appeared to be a corpse. I don’t even need to explain how that video could explode in one’s face, right?

Assume every single thing you post can and will be found. Snapchat posts might disappear in seconds, but screenshots can live forever. The same thing holds true with online forums – even anonymous ones. If you blog or tweet, do it carefully, and don’t disparage colleagues or patients.

Before you post anything – that Instagram picture of you drinking with your friends on Saturday night, that Facebook post criticizing your clinical site, or the tweet about just how much you loathe your study buddies and profs, imagine showing it to a college president, your boss, or a judge. If they would all give the thumbs up, then go for it. Several medical associations have created guidelines for social media postings, but they tend to be vague and mostly are just variation of the theme – use common sense.

To friend or not to friend

This should be a no brainer. Don’t accept or offer friend requests from current or former patients. Ever. And as emailing patients grows in popularity, remember that even e-mail communications with patients need to be formal and professional. Pretend those emails are being read by your state licensing board.

Google yourself

What comes up when you Google yourself? Not just the first 10 entries, but the first 75 or 100 entries? Your college Youtube videos? Your fraternity newsletter from 10 years ago? One of the best ways to fill search engine results, and to bury embarrassing old social media posts in those results, is to create new content – Linked In pages, online articles and blog posts from a professional perspective on topics you are passionate about, and maybe even new videos on cutting edge research or patient education resources designed to engage and attract potential patients.

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Our patients expect us to be able to self-regulate and to have good judgment. They expect protection for themselves and for the institutions for which we work, and they don’t need to see you drinking an after work beer with your scrubs on.