Online social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have taken on increasing importance in both personal and professional life. These social media offer unique opportunities for people to interact and build relationships and have great potential to enhance interpersonal and professional communication. As health care professionals with unique social and ethical obligations, medical students, resident physicians and medical school faculty must be keenly aware of the public nature of social media and the permanent nature of its content.
This policy has been developed to ensure that actions taken on the social Internet by members of the Boonshoft School of Medicine community reflect the school’s core values of professionalism, compassion, accountability, integrity, honor, acceptance of diversity and commitment to ethical behavior.
Scope & Definitions
This policy applies to all employees and students of the Boonshoft School of Medicine, including contractors acting on its behalf, and covers all interaction with social media.It incorporates all Wright State University and Boonshoft School of Medicine policies relating to professional conduct, ethical behavior and online communications, including but not limited to the Boonshoft School of Medicine Code of Faculty Behavior, the Medical Student Professional Honor Code, HIPAA and Responsible Use of Information Technology. Students and employees should follow these guidelines whether participating in social networks personally or professionally, or using personal or university-owned computing equipment when doing so.
The terms social media, social web and social networks comprise Internet- and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information based on user participation and user-generated content. Examples include social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, social bookmarking sites like Del.icio.us, social news sites like Digg, Twitter, Youtube and other sites that are centered on user interaction. Social media content may take the form of blogs, social networks, social news, wikis, videos and podcasts.
Official School Business
Only university employees or students authorized by the medical school administration may use social media to portray themselves as representing the medical school or to conduct official business in the name of the school or one of its units. Use of any social media in an official context should have the approval of the school’s Office of Marketing and Communications or the Office of the Dean. University or school logos may not be used on any social media site without the express written approval of Marketing and Communications.
Postings within social network sites are subject to the same professionalism standards as any other personal interactions. Students and employees of the Boonshoft School of Medicine should routinely monitor their own Internet presence to ensure that the personal and professional information on their own sites and, to the extent possible, content posted about them by others, is accurate and appropriate. Professionalism standards are outlined for students in the Student Policy Guide and for faculty in the Code of Faculty Behavior.
Students and employees of the Boonshoft School of Medicine who participate in a social media site, whether in a personal or official capacity, should:
- Take steps to ensure that they have implemented appropriate privacy settings to avoid inadvertent dissemination of personal information to audiences outside their control. This includes making an effort to ensure that you are not “tagged” in images posted by others that might be seen as portraying you in an unprofessional manner.
- Include a disclaimer with any posting that relates to their role as a member of the Boonshoft School of Medicine community clearly stating that all opinions belong to the poster alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Boonshoft School of Medicine or Wright State University.
- Refrain from violating standards of patient confidentiality or communicating about patients in a manner that could in any way convey a patient’s identity, even accidentally. Patients with rare diagnoses, unusual physical appearances and/or in specific locations within the community may be easily identifiable even in the absence of names and medical record numbers.1
- Not express defamatory comments about employees, students, health professionals or patients associated with the medical school or its affiliates, post images that would denigrate anyone they come into contact with in the course of carrying out their roles as students or employees of the school or depict other students or employees engaging in unprofessional behavior.
- Not interact with or “friend” individuals through social networks when they are or have been in a physician-patient or similar relationship.
University administrators may look up profiles on social networking sites and may use the information in informal or formal proceedings without providing notice to the individuals involved. The same standards of professional conduct apply to social networking as to any other ethical or professional breach up to and including dismissal from the school or termination of employment.
Regardless of whether students, faculty, staff, or residents are conducting official school or personal business, they are ambassadors for the school and the medical profession. In online social networks, the lines between public and private, personal and professional are blurred. Just by identifying oneself as WSU medical student or employee, those affiliated with the school portray an impression of the institution for those who have access to their social network profiles or blogs. Each member of the Boonshoft community should ensure sure that all content he or she is associated with is consistent with his or her position at the school and with the school’s values and professional standards.
“If the information that is shared is generic enough that nobody can identify a patient in the course of reading (Berkman, Massachusetts Medical Law Report, Social Networking 101 for Physicians, 2009), the post is permitted and is a valuable tool for physicians to share information and skills with other physicians faster than ever before.” From “Social Networking and the Medical Practice: Guidelines for Physicians, Office Staff and Patients,” published by the Ohio State Medical Association.
The American Medical Association adopted the following policy on Nov. 8, 2010
AMA Policy: Professionalism in the Use of Social Media
The Internet has created the ability for medical students and physicians to communicate and share information quickly and to reach millions of people easily. Participating in social networking and other similar Internet opportunities can support physicians’ personal expression, enable individual physicians to have a professional presence online, foster collegiality and camaraderie within the profession, provide opportunity to widely disseminate public health messages and other health communication. Social networks, blogs, and other forms of communication online also create new challenges to the patient-physician relationship. Physicians should weigh a number of considerations when maintaining a presence online:
- Physicians should be cognizant of standards of patient privacy and confidentiality that must be maintained in all environments, including online, and must refrain from posting identifiable patient information online.
- When using the Internet for social networking, physicians should use privacy settings to safeguard personal information and content to the extent possible, but should realize that privacy settings are not absolute and that once on the Internet, content is likely there permanently. Thus, physicians should routinely monitor their own Internet presence to ensure that the personal and professional information on their own sites and, to the extent possible, content posted about them by others, is accurate and appropriate.
- If they interact with patients on the Internet, physicians must maintain appropriate boundaries of the patient-physician relationship in accordance with professional ethical guidelines just, as they would in any other context.
- To maintain appropriate professional boundaries physicians should consider separating personal and professional content online.
- When physicians see content posted by colleagues that appears unprofessional they have a responsibility to bring that content to the attention of the individual, so that he or she can remove it and/or take other appropriate actions. If the behavior significantly violates professional norms and the individual does not take appropriate action to resolve the situation, the physician should report the matter to appropriate authorities.
- Physicians must recognize that actions online and content posted may negatively affect their reputations among patients and colleagues, may have consequences for their medical careers (particularly for physicians-in-training and medical students), and can undermine public trust in the medical profession.
Approved by the Executive Committee, May 12, 2011