share content with other users. In addition to social networking websites like Facebook, other technologies continue to penetrate the market, including video and picture sharing sites, forums, blogs, and other tools. The social media boom has reached the healthcare community, with physicians from all backgrounds gravitating towards using these platforms for various purposes.
Recent reports suggest that social media use among emergency medicine (EM) physicians is especially strong, most likely because they tend to embrace the healthcare side of this type of networking in ways not typically seen with other specialists. Some institutions have used social media to develop EM blogs and websites that cover daily practice issues. Others have used it to enhance emergency preparedness efforts. “Social media has become an important method of communication and information sharing in EM,” explains Malford T. Pillow, MD, MEd. “It offers the potential to create an attractive internet presence and brand specific programs, including EM residency programs.”
Considering Risks & Negative Consequences of Social Media
Social media offers tremendous benefits for recruiting, communication, and education, but it also carries legal, ethical, personal, and professional risks. Negative consequences of social media use include violating professional and personal boundaries, among other potential problems. “Even simple actions like ‘friending’ someone or posting something on Facebook can be misinterpreted,” says Dr. Pillow. “There needs to be deliberate, transparent policies in place that are designed to optimize the benefits of social media while minimizing risks.”
Important Recommendations to Guide Social Media Use
Guidance statements for social media use have been released by leaders in various medical fields. These documents are helpful for developing an overall structure to developing policies for using these technologies appropriately. To further these initiatives, Dr. Pillow and colleagues developed recommendations to guide social media use for EM residency programs. Published in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, the guidelines offer recommendations for developing and using a program-specific social media presence. They also offer recommendations for educating residents on how to avoid potentially negative consequences from using social media. These guidelines are applicable to EM programs as well as any type of residency program.
“Our strongest recommendation is that each EM or other residency program should develop a social media policy and education effort,” Dr. Pillow says. Institutional officials should be involved in the development of these materials, and discussions should be held with institutional officers, public affairs, legal or privacy officers, and information technology departments. Involving these constituents allows for institutions to consider any existing policies and procedures and address any subtleties of laws that are relevant to public versus private institutions.
The recommendations also provide guidance on content management, communication plans, and the appropriate use of online information. A content manager should be designated to assume responsibility for maintaining and monitoring posted content, with clearly outlined responsibilities of their position (Table 1). Policies should be created to address potentially unforeseen risks and liability issues. A communications plan and policy should also be developed to proactively address the use of social media and potential issues (Table 2). This includes identifying the purpose of the site and plans for dealing with adverse events. Each program should also decide how online information will be used and consistently apply these standards. Factors such as search limitations, potentially damaging content, and biases (among others) should be considered (Table 3).
Education & Professionalism on Social Media
According to Dr. Pillow, it is important that EM and other residency programs provide guidance and education to residents, fellows, faculty, and other personnel regarding appropriate social media use. “Professionalism and privacy issues are accentuated on social media, and it’s important to pay attention to personal reputation and medical privacy,” he says. “Normal standards may not be sufficient to avoid misperceptions or legal issues. In addition, it should be assumed that any content that is posted is permanent and public. Even if it’s deleted, the post may still exist in archives, databases, or downloadable formats.” The guidelines add that people in a position of power or authority should refrain from initiating personal online relationships with subordinates and from discussing patients and/or specific cases on social media sites.
“Although social media can be a powerful tool, the key to optimizing its use is to develop programs that recognize the potential benefits but are prepared to manage the risks,” says Dr. Pillow. “Technology platforms for social media are continuing to evolve, further highlighting the need to have sound policies in place. Doing so will enable physicians, residents, ED personnel, and other key stakeholders to capitalize on social media’s vast potential and enhance patient care.”
Readings & Resources (click to view)
Pillow MT, Hopson L, Bond M, et al. Social media guidelines and best practices: recommendations from the Council of Residency Directors Social Media Task Force. West J Emerg Med. 2013 Sept 25 [Epub ahead of print]. Available at: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/8jh2p2mq#page-1.
AMA Policy: Professionalism in the Use of Social Media. 2010. Available at: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/meeting/professionalism-social-media.shtml.
Burke T, Goldstein G. A legal primer for social media. Mark Health Serv. 2010;30:30-31.
Wells K. Social media in medical school education. Surgery. 2011;150:2-4.
Thompson L, Black E, Duff W, et al. Protected health information on social networking sites: ethical and legal considerations. J Med Internet Res. 2011;13:e8.
Gorrindo T, Groves J. Web searching for information about physicians. JAMA. 2008;300:213-215.