AMA Issues Social Media Guidelines

Physicians Get Tips on Protecting Patient Privacy
AMA Issues Social Media Guidelines
The American Medical Association has adopted a new policy offering guidelines on physician use of social media that calls for refraining from posting identifiable patient information online to protect privacy.

"Using social media can help physicians create a professional presence online, express their personal views and foster relationships, but it can also create new challenges for the patient-physician relationship," says Mary Anne McCaffree, M.D., an AMA board member. "The AMA's new policy outlines a number of considerations physicians should weigh when building or maintaining a presence online."

Privacy a Priority

Adopted at this week's AMA semi-annual policy-making meeting, the social media policy also encourages physicians to:

  • Be cognizant of standards of patient privacy and confidentiality that must be maintained;
  • Use social networking privacy settings to safeguard personal information and content to the extent possible. But physicians should realize that "privacy settings are not absolute, and that once on the Internet, content is likely there permanently. Thus physicians should routinely monitor their own Internet presence to ensure the personal and professional information on their own sites, and, to the extent possible, content posted about them by others, is accurate and appropriate."
  • Maintain appropriate boundaries of the patient-physician relationship when interacting with patients on the Internet "as they would in any other context;"
  • Consider separating professional and personal content online;
  • Notify colleagues if content they have posted online appears unprofessional, and if necessary, report the matter to authorities;
  • Be aware that online content may negatively affect their reputations, have consequences for their medical careers and can undermine public trust in the medical profession.

Social Media Policies

A growing number of healthcare organizations, including Adventist Health System, have adopted social media policies to help protect patient privacy and ensure compliance with the HIPAA privacy rule and the HITECH Act.

A California hospital was in the headlines this summer when it fired five employees and disciplined another cause they used social media to post personal discussions about hospital patients.

About the Author

Howard Anderson

Howard Anderson

Former News Editor, ISMG

Anderson was news editor of Information Security Media Group and founding editor of HealthcareInfoSecurity and DataBreachToday. He has more than 40 years of journalism experience, with a focus on healthcare information technology issues. Before launching HealthcareInfoSecurity, he served as founding editor of Health Data Management magazine, where he worked for 17 years, and he served in leadership roles at several other healthcare magazines and newspapers.

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