The advent of social media has brought about much change to the medical profession, especially when it comes to doctor-patient relationships. In the midst of their frustration and stress, some medical professionals have taken to social media to rant about patient behavior, and in doing so unintentionally breaching their patient’s confidentiality boundary.

As such, it is really important to remember that whatever you post as a doctor, nurse or hospital staff can compromise patients, and may even jeopardize your career. Even posts that you make in a personal capacity to your online friends may leak out and be shared in public. In order to maintain complete professionalism, here are some of the main things you should avoid posting at all costs:

1. Pictures of your patients in a state of undress

Patients are often required to disrobe in order to undergo certain examinations, diagnostic procedures, treatments and more. Never take and upload any of their pictures while this is going on, even if you hide or blur out their faces. Inevitably, you may give out other information on your post that may help identify them. Most patients feel intimidated and uncomfortable enough having to disrobe in front of strangers and exposing them in social media will only make things worse.

2. Stories of patients’ private lives

As a medical practitioner or support staff, patients are bound to confide in you certain things that they keep secret from their loved ones and friends. If you post their stories on social media, you risk exposing them in public. Even if you do not name them or change their names, again, other details may give them away. So no matter how juicy or interesting the story is, just try and keep it to yourself.

3. Patients’ shortcomings or mistakes

Do you have a patient that never takes his or her medication? Do you have one that annoys you by asking to be hospitalized for mere sniffles? Is there a patient that rattles on and on without getting to the point? Despite being mad or cheesed off, you should resist the urge to rant about them on social media as this breaches patient confidentiality and does not reflect professionalism at all. If you have a problematic patient, find a firm but polite way to confront them and settle the issue face to face. This method is more effective than blowing off steam online.

4. Awkward diagnostics or screening results

Some medical screening results, such as X-rays of patients who have swallowed unusual items, may be humorous to you, and will make you want to whip out your smart phone and snap a few pictures of it. However, it would not be funny to the patient whose results you have posted online, and they may lodge a complaint against you, which may result in job termination.

Maintaining proper patient confidentiality is highly important in a medical career as patients trust you with their most private information. Recently, the Malaysian Health Ministry issued a directive discouraging doctors from using social media to discuss their patient’s cases. It is hoped that this directive will help enhance doctor-patient relationships in the future. MIMS

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