New Social Media Guidelines for Practitioners

November 25, 2019 0 Comments

A new guide was published for health practitioners to understand the obligations when using social media. Find out how not to make critical mistakes online.

New Social Media Guidelines for Practitioners

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) have published a new guide to help health practitioners understand the obligations when using social media.

When using social media, health practitioners should be aware of their obligations under the National Law, the Board’s Code of Conduct, the Advertising guidelines and other relevant legislation, such as privacy.

AHPRA believes that trust in a health practitioner is crucial. Whether social media activity can be seen by the public or is limited to a specific group of people, health practitioners have a responsibility to behave ethically and to maintain professional standards. 

The guide does not aim to prohibit practitioners from engaging online or participating in social media; rather, it encourages practitioners to act ethically and professionally in any online setting. 

Smiling doctor using tablet computer to go on social media

The guide reminds practitioners that when interacting online, they should be aware of the implications of their actions by:

  • Complying with confidentiality and privacy 
  • Complying with their professional obligations as defined in their Code of conduct
  • Maintaining professional boundaries with individuals 
  • Communicating professionally and respectfully with or about patients, other colleagues and their employers, and
  • Not presenting information that is false, misleading or deceptive, including advertising claims that are not supported by acceptable evidence.

A primary objective of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (the National Scheme) is to protect the public in these potentially alarming instances. 

Harm may include breaches of confidentiality, defamation of colleagues or employers, violation of practitioner and patient boundaries or a disclosure of personal information to the public about both the patients and/or employers. 

It can often be extremely difficult to remove or change information on social media once it is published. Even if a person deletes their content on social media, any information available online can be circulated widely and rapidly. Therefore, it is imperative that healthcare providers are careful about what they like or post online, regardless of where in the world they are or what kind of language and online profile information is used. 

More importantly, National Boards like a lot of employers in various industries may consider punishing social media use in the practitioners’ private lives if it raises enough concerns about their code of conduct to continue holding registration.

Privacy concern folder

Below are some important points from the social media guidelines:

  • Patient confidentiality

Take strong care when sharing information online, including in comments sections or photos, to NOT disclose any personal patient information. Double-check what is in the background of a photo before sharing it and make sure that the information you share does not unintentionally disclose personal information about individuals – patients and colleagues. 

  • Cultural awareness, safety and patient beliefs (social & clinical)

As a health practitioner, your views on clinical issues are influential to patients. If your social media reflects or promotes personal views about social and clinical issues then it might impact a patient’s sense of cultural safety or it could lead to a patient or colleague feeling judged, intimidated or embarrassed.

  • Professionalism

Codes of Conduct emphasise that practitioners must always treat patients with respect and communicate effectively, courteously, professionally and respectfully with and about other health care professionals. This also strongly applies to comments made online and in social media. Grievances are best to resolve privately. 

Public Health statement with doctors instruments

  • Public health messages

While people may have personal beliefs about some public health initiatives, it is recommended to make sure that any comments you make on social media are consistent with the standards and guidelines of your profession and do not contradict public health campaigns and messages. A health practitioner who shares information online which contradicts the best available scientific evidence may breach their professional responsibilities with the National Boards. 

  • Advertising

The Advertising guidelines explain the advertising requirements in the National Law. The National Law and Advertising guidelines also apply to social media. For example, false claims about the effectiveness of a treatment on a Facebook site that advertises a doctor’s services or their clinic is misleading and considered a breach of section 133 of the National Law. Advertising in social media using a testimonial is also a breach of the National Law.

Questions?

What are your thoughts on the use of social media by healthcare professionals? We would love to hear from you. 

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