The internet, with its easy access to networks, connections, and friends, is a powerful tool for professionals and businesses. By judicious use of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools, businesses can increase their profile, connect with customers, and expand their client base.
Like other businesses and professionals, doctors have begun to make us of the tools available on the web. Physicians, like other professionals, have joined the popular social media site Facebook en masse, setting up both personal profiles and professional pages. Physicians have also begun blogging and micro-blogging (using such tools as Twitter) on a variety of topics: their clinical practice, advice for foreign doctors, and trends in the medical profession. The Chicago medical malpractice attorneys of Passen & Powell have no problem with physicians using such tools – as long as they are used appropriately.
When does social media activity of doctors cross the line? Certainly when doctors begin to share information about patients that would otherwise be confidential, and without their patient’s consent.
Medical blogs with stories containing patient information have sprung up like mushrooms across the web. These range from innocuous anecdotes with no real identifying information to doctors posting images of a patient’s entire medical chart, with only the name changed.
Naturally, the circumstance of physicians sharing stories about patients with friends and family is not new. Although it is inappropriate and perhaps illegal (under HIPAA regulations), realistically, we all understand that doctors may tell their wives stories about their day, or share with a few colleagues an amusing or frustrating anecdote about an anonymous patient at a cocktail party.
But the advent of the internet and social media completely changes the scale of these “friendly” disclosures. When a doctor of days gone by shared a story with friends at a party, there was very little worry that the patient information contained in that story would spread beyond those friends, or that the patient would be identified. Conversely, when today’s doctors share stories with “friends” on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, these risks are very present, and very real.
Once information is posted electronically, there’s no going back. As our personal injury attorneys are well aware, in a few heartbeats salacious information is re-posted, linked to, shared, and re-tweeted. In the time between a physician hitting “post” and his realization that the post went too far, or failed to omit important and private information, he has often lost control of that information and the ability to retract it. Even if a physician posts information only to his online “friends,” information can and does easily escape this corral through the simple expedient of those “friends” copying and pasting the information, then proceeding to share it with others.
Physicians simply must wake up to the reality that disclosure of patient information in any online form – no matter how mild – is unacceptable and unethical. Although certain state medical boards, and the American Medical Association, have issued “guidelines” for physicians making use of social media, this is not a solution to the problem.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago medical malpractice attorney at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.