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Guidelines Issued Relating to Online Medical Professionalism

Considerable educational benefits, but physicians must preserve relationships and confidentiality

THURSDAY, April 18 (HealthDay News) -- Physicians should be aware of the benefits on online media and should recognize the implications for patient confidentiality and public perception, according to a position paper published in the April 16 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Jeanne M. Farnan, M.D., M.H.P.E., from the University of Chicago, and colleagues reviewed the literature and developed a statement regarding online medical professionalism, focusing on issues including use of digital media for nonclinical purposes, implications for confidentiality, and the use of social media in patient education.

The authors note that, although use of online media can convey considerable educational benefits to patients and physicians, physicians must consistently apply ethical principles to online settings and communications in order to preserve the relationship, confidentiality, and respect for individuals. In the online setting the boundaries between professional and social spheres can blur but physicians should aim to keep them separate and comport themselves professionally in both spheres. Documentation about patient care communications, including those in e-mail or other electronic communications, should be included in a patient's medical record. Physicians should periodically check the accuracy of information available about themselves in online sources. Physicians, trainees, and medical students should be aware that online postings may have future implications.

"These guidelines are meant to be a starting point, and they will need to be modified and adapted as technology advances and best practices emerge," the authors write. "Physicians are encouraged to take a proactive approach to managing digital identity by routinely performing surveillance of publicly available material and maintaining strict privacy settings about their information."

Full Text

Physician's Briefing