Some Docs May Use Twitter for 'Unprofessional' Messages: Report

4% of physician 'tweets' said to be sexually explicit, violated patients' privacy or were otherwise inappropriate

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THURSDAY, Feb. 17, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Some doctors post unethical and unprofessional content on Twitter, a finding that suggests the need for more oversight of physicians' use of social media, according to a recent study.

Of 5,156 "tweets" sent by 260 U.S. physicians, each with 500 or more followers, last May, researchers found that 3 percent were unprofessional.

This means the tweets included profanity, potential patient privacy violations, sexually explicit material, and/or discriminatory statements, said the team at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

They also categorized 1 percent of the doctors' tweets as "other unprofessional," meaning the messages included unsupported claims about a product for sale on the doctor's Web site or repeated promotions of specific health products. Ten of these tweets about medical therapies contradicted existing medical knowledge or guidelines, potentially putting patients at risk, the researchers added.

"This research helped us to identify how physicians are using social media and has helped us gauge whether or not there is a need for greater accountability for physicians who use social media," study author Dr. Katherine Chretien, an associate professor of medicine, said in a university news release.

"While the majority of tweets were potentially helpful, the ethical breaches and unprofessional content raised a red flag," she added.

The findings were published in a letter in the Feb. 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about the American Medical Association's code of medical ethics.

SOURCE: George Washington University, news release, Feb. 14, 2011

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