Is it time to update physician’s social media guidelines?

s_cover_jcv082113According to an article in this month’s JAMA, organized medicine should change the medical profession guidelines on social media use that calls on doctors to separate their personal and professional online personas. The article suggests that “instead of focusing on professional and personal boundaries, physicians should zero in on the boundary between what is appropriate and what is not. When a physician asks, ‘Should I post this on social media?’ the answer does not depend on whether the content is professional or personal but instead depends on whether it is appropriate for a physician in a public space,” the authors said.

The separation of personal and professional personae was a recommendation first made by the American Medical Association in 2010. Other physician organizations followed suit with their own guidelines, each promoting the same personal-professional separation advice. In April, the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards released similar guidelines. According to the JAMA authors, “Separation of identities online is operationally impossible.” They argue that an online search for a social media page would connect both personal and professional pages. “Despite the increasing availability of paid services to monitor and control a person’s Web presence, no current technology exists to overcome fully this particular barrier.”

In addition, the argument highlights that “Professional identity constitutes and is constituted by personal identity, perhaps as one of the many ‘subidentities’ or roles individuals might have, such as a spouse, parent and so on. Separation therefore verges on nonsensical. The argument is also made that separation may be harmful and that depersonalized online interactions could lead patients to believe the doctor is hiding something. They also could lead to a physician’s inability to normalize a difficult situation or express empathy.

JAMA: Social Media and Physicians’ Online Identity Crisis

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