March 7, 2011

American Medical Association Introduces New Policy on the Use of Social Media

The American Medical Association (AMA) recently approved a policy for physician’s use of social media.  This policy is available here.  The AMA noted that while “social networking and other similar Internet opportunities . . . enable individual physicians to have a professional presence online” they also “create new challenges to the patient-physician relationship.”

In an effort to help physicians and medical students make appropriate and professional use of social networking, blogs and other forms of online communication, the AMA’s policy provides the following considerations:

  • Physicians must remain vigilant about and maintain patient privacy and confidentiality in all circumstances;
  • Physicians should use privacy settings to safeguard personal information and content as much as possible and they should routinely monitor their Internet presence to ensure that the information posted is accurate and appropriate;
  • Appropriate professional boundaries must be maintained with patients and other professionals (consider separating personal and professional content);
  • Physicians must recognize that online interactions and information can negatively affect their reputations, medical careers and the medical profession; and
  • When physicians see a colleague taking unprofessional or inappropriate actions online, they may need to bring this to the attention of their colleague and, if appropriate corrective action is not taken, the physician may have to report this behavior to the appropriate authorities.

The AMA’s policy is significant because it emphasizes the heightened need for organizations in the medical field to have a social media policy.  Today, all organizations should have such a policy because, regardless of whether it is an established part of a marketing plan or service offering, odds are your employees are already using online networking and social media sites and blogs.  Without guidance, even well intentioned employees may fail to appreciate the consequences of their actions and the potentially damaging effect their online behavior could have on your organization.

As illustrated by the AMA’s new policy, these concerns are elevated for organizations that provide medical services or that possess protected health information.  Companies and individuals subject to physician-patient confidentiality, patient privacy laws and other legal requirements must protect themselves by creating clear standards for online conduct.  Without a policy, employees with the capability of damaging your company’s reputation or breaching legal obligations may not be aware of what they can and cannot do in the online world.

This post was contributed by Kurt Bratten.