The Oregon Medical Board regulates the practice of medicine to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of Oregon patients. As medical practice has evolved, so has the method of communication among practitioners, patients, and family. Colleagues, administrators, and patients increasingly expect healthcare professionals to stay connected, and online social networking has become a resource for healthcare professionals to share information and to form meaningful professional relationships.
The Board recognizes the benefits of social media and supports its responsible use. However, healthcare professionals are bound by ethical and professional obligations that extend beyond the exam room, and social media creates new challenges. Among the primary obligations to consider when engaging in social media are confidentiality, boundaries, and overall professionalism.
Healthcare professionals have an obligation to protect patient privacy and confidentiality in all environments. Identifiable patient information – even seemingly minor details of a case or patient interaction – must never be posted online. Healthcare professionals must never discuss a patient’s medical treatment or answer a patient’s health-related question through personal social media. E-mail must be secure if used to communicate medical information to patients. Healthcare professionals must use discretion and consider all information posted online to be public.
Healthcare professionals must maintain appropriate boundaries in the physician-patient relationship at all times. Electronic media may blur the boundaries of the physician-patient relationship and heighten the potential for boundary violations.1 As a result, healthcare professionals should consider separating personal and professional social media accounts and exercise caution if considering interacting with patients or their families online through personal social networking sites. Healthcare professionals should feel comfortable ignoring or declining requests to connect from current or past patients through a personal social media account. It is the professional’s responsibility to maintain appropriate boundaries, not the patient’s.
Online actions and content directly reflect on professionalism. Therefore, healthcare professionals must understand that their online activity may negatively impact their reputations and careers as well as undermine the public’s overall trust in the profession. Healthcare professionals should not make negative statements about other healthcare providers and should use caution when responding to the negative comments of others on social media. When conflicted about posting online content, healthcare professionals should err on the side of caution and refrain. Further, if healthcare professionals write online about their professional experiences, they must be honest about their credentials and reveal any conflicts of interest.
Healthcare professionals are required at all times to follow the Medical Practice Act, rules established by the Board, and professional standards of care. These obligations apply regardless of the medium of communication.
– Adopted January 8, 2016