10 social media behaviors physicians should avoid

Physicians must be particularly careful when using social media. Below are 10 common social media pitfalls to avoid, according to a Jan. 7 article by Medscape.

10 social media behaviors physicians should avoid: 

1. Not recognizing the viral nature of social media. Social media can magnify one comment, sending it across channels and reaching thousands. Removed posts may have already been shared or screenshotted.

2. Violating patient privacy. Risky situations include diagnosing patients with colleagues, posting cases on a practice website and uploading photos with a patient's face or information in the background. Eliminate all patient specifics. Written consent is required if patients are identified for marketing or other purposes. 

3. Responding to patients' friend requests. Don't add patients on personal pages. Patients could ask for medical advice, which could lead to a HIPAA violation. Instead, set up a private page for family and friends, along with a professional page for the public. 

4. Giving specific medical advice to patients. Don't respond to patient-specific questions. Replies could violate HIPAA or meet the legal definition of a physician-patient relationship. Have patients come in for an office visit instead. 

5. Posting unprofessional behavior. Don't post potentially objectionable content, such as profanity, drunkenness, unprofessional behavior at work or sexually suggestive posts. Set privacy settings to only allow sharing with a small number of people.

6. Unprofessional statements. Providers who posted even one negative comment on Facebook seemed to have lost credibility among potential patients, according to a study cited by Medscape. Comments about race or gender are especially inflammatory.

7. Violating employers' social media restrictions. Many organizations ban social media use on workplace computers, but can't block access on smartphones or laptops, so they set rules about general social media use. Be aware of employers' differing policies. 

8. Not revealing conflicts of interest. When posting about a procedure or product, the Federation of State Medical Boards says "physicians must reveal any existing conflicts of interest and they should be honest about their credentials as a physician."

9. Creating negative impressions. Outdated practice profiles, self-absorption and inconsistencies in profiles across social media can all leave a negative impression.

10. Posting too much. If followers are bombarded by too many posts, they may start to ignore content. Two to three posts a week is sufficient.

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