The majority of state medical boards across the country have received and acted on complaints about physicians’ online behavior, according to a recent poll published in JAMA

Investigators surveyed the 68 executive directors of all medical and osteopathic boards in the United States and its territories about violations of online professionalism reported to them and subsequent actions taken. All but four medical boards indicated that they received reports of “online professionalism violations” at some point.

The most common violations included prescribing drugs over the internet without seeing the patient or misrepresenting credentials. The less common but still reported complaints included the following online behaviors:

Violation of patient confidentiality
Failure to reveal conflicts of interest
Derogatory comments about patients
Depictions of intoxication
Discriminatory language or practice

More than 70% of respondents said they had pursued some type of disciplinary procedure including formal hearing, consent order, or informal warning. Suspension, restriction, or revocation of licenses had occurred at 56% of boards. Other sanctions included letters of reprimand, fines, and mandatory education or community service.

While online misbehavior by physicians is probably still uncommon overall, administrators worry this is likely to change as the use of social media grows.

Physician’s Weekly wants to know… Do you feel hospitals need to implement strong ethical rules for physicians’ online behavior? Should official guidelines should be created by professional organizations for social media use among physicians?