Is Your Doctor Allowed to Post about You on Twitter?

In my last blog post, I discussed the importance of having a personal policy about sharing health-related issues on social media. As I argued, it’s vital to think before posting when it comes to health problems. At least it’s relatively easy to control what you post about yourself.

But how would you feel if you saw a Tweet from your nurse with your personal health details, or worse, publicly admitting she is too hungover to be at work? Is it within the rights of a paramedic to post about having lost a patient in an odd situation on her most recent shift?

There is all kinds of cringe-worthy behavior by medical professionals on social media. In fact, the Times recently reported that over 1,200 National Health Services (NHS) employees in the UK were reprimanded for misusing social media since 2013. To add to that, private clinicians and medical organizations in the US have to advertise to get business (what a terrible way to talk about patients!). Luckily in Canada, physicians don’t need to spend time or money on social media marketing to be successful.

At the same time, medical professionals and organizations have valuable health and safety messages to share. In fact, as I have written elsewhere, Health Canada is the most popular Canadian federal ministry on social media. Plus, allowing medical practitioners a certain amount of freedom to consult each-other online can help solve tough cases.

 

Know your rights

Screenshot of Vitalité Health Network's web page on Patient Rights and Respoinsibilities. To the right is a menu with Ethics written in large letters. At the top is a banner with the site's mega menu.

My local health network publishes their code of ethics online.

 

What should you know about the online activities of health organizations and healthcare professionals?

  • You have the right to know and understand how your private information may be used. If this is a concern for you, ask questions.
  • All hospitals and health networks have patient confidentiality policies, and they’re often quite easy to find online. For instance, I found several policies on privacy on my regional health network’s website.
  • Some hospitals and organizations have specific policies or guidelines addressing the use of social media. This handy guide and this particular policy were developed by the Ottawa Hospital. Medical professional associations also have guidelines such as these.
  • There are ways to report inappropriate online behaviour through the social media platform, as well as the provincial and medical organizations. Learn how to report Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts. Whether about yourself or another patient, report privacy breaches right away.

Professional online conduct

If you are a medical professional, be sure to understand your rights and responsibilities. Consult your health network, professional association, and other useful online resources. Here’s a great article, which lists some safe social media behaviours. Kingsley Napley just published a fantastic blog post about this very topic in light of the NHS scandal.

The burden is definitely on those in the medical field to ensure their online presence is professional at all times, even if they aren’t posting about their jobs. Just think: how would you react if you saw a photo of your doctor on a drunken night out, regardless of whether he was on vacation that week?

In short, the answer to the question whether your doctor is allowed to Tweet about you is not so simple. Medical professionals absolutely have to respect patient confidentiality, but in general, they are allowed to post about anonymous patients as long as there is no identifiable information that could point back to you.

Still worried? Be sure to talk to your medical team if you have lingering questions.

 

 

facebook Ever wonder if your personal medical information gets shared online? You may want to know your rights. Check out my new post: bit.ly/2C2ARiH

 

twitter Is your doctor allowed to post about you on Twitter? Find out: bit.ly/2C2ARiH #medical #socialmedia #doctor

 

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