When is it Acceptable for a Doctor to Use Social Media?

Like individuals in all professions, many doctors are finding that social media is becoming a necessary aspect of both their personal and professional lives. For doctors, posting information about their patients (and their personal lives) can have obvious consequences and as a result, the North Carolina Medical Board (NCMB) has established a set of six guiding principles for licensed physicians to keep in mind when using social media.

Guidelines for North Carolina Doctors’ Use of Social Media

The North Carolina Medical Board’s position is clear: “Healthcare practitioners are held to a higher standard than others with respect to social media.” Noting that doctors’ ethical obligations “extend beyond the exam room,” the North Carolina Medical Board encourages licensed physicians to abide by the following principles when communicating with patients and posting information online:

  • Patient Interactions – When interacting with patients online, doctors must adhere to the same standards that apply to face-to-face interactions. This includes maintaining appropriate boundaries on social media.
  • Patient Privacy – The obligation to maintain privacy of patients’ medical information extends to social media as well. As a result, physicians should avoid posting any patient-identifying information online.
  • Personal and Professional Profiles – The NCMB recommends that physicians maintain separate social media profiles for personal and professional purposes. This recommendation addresses the risk of a doctor’s publicly-available personal information reflecting negatively on his or her professionalism. Note, however, that some social media sites (including Facebook) prohibit users from establishing multiple profiles.
  • Unprofessional Personal Use – Acknowledging the risk that a patient may nonetheless access a physician’s personal social media profiles, the NCMB also advises against posting any material on any profile that “demonstrates, or appears to demonstrate, behavior that might be considered unprofessional, inappropriate or unethical.”
  • Profane and Discriminatory Content – The NCMB’s guidelines state that use of profanity and posting disparaging or discriminatory remarks about any individual or type of patient is “unacceptable.”
  • Monitoring – Finally, the NCMB suggests that physicians licensed in North Carolina regularly monitor their social media profiles to ensure that they remain accurate and up to date.

NCMB Endorses Model Guidelines for the Use of Social Media

In addition to establishing these guiding principles, the North Carolina Medical Board has also endorsed the Model Guidelines for the Appropriate Use of Social Media and Social Networking in Medical Practice published by the Federation of State Medical Boards (the “Model Guidelines”).

The Model Guidelines generally focus on the same primary ethical considerations as the NCMB’s guiding principles, but go into more detail while providing some examples of unprofessional and unethical online behavior.

For doctors in North Carolina, using social media for marketing purposes, to maintain professional connections and stay in touch with friends and family all come with their own unique challenges. In today’s world, understanding the professional and ethical implications social media is critical to avoiding accidentally putting your license at risk.

Speak With a Raleigh Professional License Defense Attorney at Cheshire Parker Schneider & Bryan, PLLC

At Cheshire Parker Schneider & Bryan, PLLC, we provide experienced legal representation for medical license defense in North Carolina. If you have questions about your ethical and professional responsibilities or need to speak with a lawyer about a disciplinary matter, we invite you contact us for a confidential consultation. To schedule an appointment with one of our professional license defense lawyers, call (919) 833-3114 or contact us online today.