The AMA has also published more comprehensive guidelines for physician-patient electronic communications at http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/about-ama/our-people/member-groups-sections/young-physicians-section/advocacy-resources/guidelines-physician-patient-electronic-communications.shtml.
Explore This IssueApril 2011
The social media policy comes none too soon, with some physicians already crossing the line in their use of Twitter, according to Katherine Chretien, MD, FACP, associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C. Research conducted by Dr. Chretien and colleagues revealed that social media offers the potential for positive social impact, but some physicians who are regular Twitter users disseminate unethical or unprofessional content. The research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2011;305(6):566-568).
“We certainly found that physicians are using Twitter to communicate health and medical information, which is potentially very positive,” Dr. Chretien said. However, the raft of potential patient privacy violations was troubling, she added.
“With Twitter time and date stamping each tweet, it becomes very tricky for physicians to talk about patients they’ve seen in clinic or the OR,” she said. “Even if you don’t include names or exact location, or if you remain anonymous, you can still disclose enough details that the information may be recognized by patients or their families.”
Despite these challenges, a good example of the goal of social media is to promote two-way dialogue to encourage feedback about the practice and recommend physicians to other online friends. Ericson advised practices to start with a blog, where physicians can publish stories illustrating their expertise and answer patient questions.
“When someone asks a question in the exam room, that’s a story,” he said. “Building a database of answers to common questions is a great approach for a physician blog.”
For search engine optimization, a blog attracts “a ton of traffic,” Ericson added. “Each story becomes a magnet for a specific search.” In addition, you can use the blog as an “information distribution hub” by posting automatically to the practice’s Facebook page or Twitter account.
Like almost every activity within an otolaryngology practice, time is the biggest constraint. “Practices realize they need to have a presence online or they’re going to be left out,” Watson said.