The Royal College of GPs has put together guidance for the use of social media by doctors. You can download the document here.
Here is a simple image which can help to remind you of the key points.
Doctors have always had a responsibility to communicate with patients – and to do this in the places where patients do their communicating, whether that be in their homes, their local communities or the online environment. Social media has the potential to fundamentally alter how doctors communicate with the public and vice versa. We must ensure that we are all aware of this and that we understand how to practise safely.
As keen users of social media ourselves, we believe it offers enormous potential benefits for doctors and patients. But there is nothing ‘unique’ about the values that underpin how doctors behave and interact in this new environment. The enduring principles that we follow to maintain our professionalism are applicable to both the on- and offline worlds.
Senior and more experienced doctors, who were not brought up in the online culture, may have a responsibility to become more technically skilled and social media savvy. We hope this Code will empower those who have yet to take their tentative first steps across this new frontier, by reassuring them that they won’t need to develop an alien set of skills to survive on the other side.
Conversely, some younger doctors, who may be less experienced professionally but have been brought up as proficient digital natives, may need to consider how to adapt their habitual online behaviours to take account of their less familiar professional responsibilities.
By laying out some simple principles, this guide aims to make the use of social media less threatening for both groups, highlighting how much each might learn from the other.
Above all, the Social Media Highway Code is intended as a guide to help doctors with their decision making and not as a book of prescriptive rules. Our main aim is to encourage doctors to think, communicate and share experiences freely and openly, while remaining aware of their professional responsibilities and the influence their online presence may have on others.
Ben Riley and Clare Gerada
Lead authors of the RCGP Social Media Highway Code