The dark side of FaceBook

The dark side of FaceBook

11 August 2013

It's hard to remember a time ‘BI’ – that is: “before internet”.  Even though it really wasn’t all that long ago.  Things in the digital world change so quickly. In my first year at university (1998) I didn’t have an email address – now I have four or five (see, so many I’ve lost count). I think that is pretty significant change in a reasonably short period of time.  However, my Dad often trumps this story with one of his own – when he was at university the university only had one computer – and it took up the whole top floor of the Hocken Building (Otago University Alumni reading this will know the building I’m talking about). Today, in our household of two people, we have three computers, an ipad and two  smart phones. Safe to say, the internet has changed the way we live.

The opportunities for the use of social media in healthcare are huge.  It is estimated that 80% of internet users “google” for health information and the number of "e-patients" - engaged, educated and equipped healthcare consumers - is growing. Health Professionals without an online presence are not only missing out being involved in the 'participatory medicine' movement, but are also leaving the online space open for unscrupulous people to pedal, at best unproven, but potentially dangerous remedies to their patients.

However, setting sail in uncharted waters can be daunting.  There are stories out there about it all going wrong for health professionals who don’t get it quite right - like the NHS doctors posted on facebook “lying down” on the job who found themselves in hot water. According to a study recently published in JAMA violations of online professionalism are prevalent among physicians.  

So how does the savvy Health Professional endeavour to engage but still remain safe in the modern online world?  Here’s our top 5 quick tips:

1. Be aware of the potential pitfalls of using social media: learn from others mistakes.

2. Don’t “friend” your patients – considering creating both a professional and a personal presence.

3. Check your privacy settings: lock ‘em down!

4. Google yourself – do you like what you see? Does it represent you well? If no, set about changing it.

5. Adopt a ‘social media policy’: Personally, I like the Mayo Clinic’s approach to social media policy – summarisable in just 12 words.  I like simple.

Don’t Lie, Don’t Pry, Don’t Cheat, Can’t Delete, Don’t Steal, Don’t Reveal

Pretty good rules for life, as well as tweeting.

Or check if your employer, institution or professional association has a ‘Social Media Policy’.  The NZ and Australian Medical Associations have recently released a fantastic document “Social Media and the Medical Profession: A guide to online professionalism for medical practitioners and medical students". It’s worth a read.

If in doubt, the ultimate litmus test is to ask yourself: "would I mind if 1 million people saw this right now?".  If the answer is no, then you are probably good to go.  While social media does pose some unique, and potentially as-yet undiscovered threats as Farris Timimi, medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media puts it:

"The biggest risk in health care social media is not participating in the conversation in the first place"