Online interactions – What should you do?

Even with stringent privacy settings, once information is posted online, it is nearly impossible to remove and can quickly spread beyond one’s control. There are unintended and irreversible consequences to your patients, colleagues, your future employment prospects and your personal integrity. So, think twice before posting or reacting to posts online.

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Remember: What happens online has real world consequences

Professionalism

Always keep in mind that social media posts will reflect on you and your reputation as a healthcare professional. It is key to always respect your colleagues and patients and never bring your competency or integrity into question. Mind your language, keep it positive and ensure that any response to comments is articulated effectively and grammatically correct. Drafting a couple of posts first before clicking ‘send’ is important and may save you any negative feedback. 

Confidentiality

There are no excuses for breaching patient confidentiality. Using social media to discuss patients or post pictures which may enable patients to be identified without first having obtained informed consent is not appropriate. Patients have every right to expect that healthcare professionals and their staff will protect their privacy and keep their information confidential except of course in the event of a legal or public interest matter.  AHPRA code of conduct guidelines outlines good medical practice as the following: 3.4.1 Treating information about patients as confidential.  3.4.2 Appropriately sharing information about patients for their health care, consistent with privacy law and professional guidelines about confidentiality.  3.4.3 Using consent processes, including forms if required, for the release and exchange of health information.  3.4.4 Being aware that there are complex issues related to genetic information and seeking appropriate advice about disclosure of such information.  3.4.5 Ensuring that your use of social media is consistent with your ethical and legal obligations to protect patient confidentiality and privacy.

Professional boundaries

Social media can breed familiarity and blur professional and personal boundaries between healthcare practitioners and their patients. Keeping communications strictly professional with patients and being upfront that online interaction is unprofessional will assist in eliminating any misunderstanding in your dealings. Completely avoiding online patient communications and relationships with current and former patients is the best advice we can give you. The less you are involved in these types of situations, the less likely you will leave yourself open to a complaint or adverse scenario. Keep your accounts separate; it’s best to have a separate account for your personal and professional social media accounts.

Advertising guidelines

Four key things to remember about advertising and your practice:
  • Using patient testimonials in advertising material is prohibited. Testimonials are statements, reviews, feedback about a service received and involves recommendations or positive statements about clinical aspects of a health service. 
  • Never make misleading or unsubstantiated healthcare claims with an expectation of benefit.
  • Practitioners must present information in an unbiased, evidence-based context and check content sourced from elsewhere.
  • Advertisements cannot refer to ‘Botox’ or ‘dermal fillers’. Always use general words and phrasing in advertising instead such as Cosmetic injections/anti-wrinkle treatment (for Botox) and Lip enhancement/augmentation (for dermal fillers).
  • Remember:

  • Traditional expectations of professional conduct apply
  • Be conscious of your online image
  • Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t say in person
  • Carefully consider the pros and cons if considering initiating a defamation case
  • Here are some top tips for dealing with negative online reviews

  • Listen to the feedback. If it can benefit you to deliver optimum healthcare, it shouldn’t be completely dismissed.
  • Consider whether to respond or not, bearing in mind if the comment is from a patient or if it is made by an anonymous source.
  • Do not respond where it would constitute a privacy breach, eg patient has shared their medical history.
  • Consider disabling comments on both Facebook and Google.
  • Will alleviate risk if you respond generally rather than replying specifically to a comment.
  • Posts can be flagged for removal from external sites but remember success rates vary.
  • Familiarise yourself with Google’s guidelines for removal of reviews.
  • Avoid any legal responses. Could cause the issue to escalate rather than diminish.
  • As with any complaint, remain professional, listen to the patient and thank them for their feedback.
  • Contact MIPS to notify and discuss an appropriate strategy.
  • Resources

    AHPRA Medical and Dental codes of conduct 
    AHPRA guidelines for advertising regulated health services
    AHPRA online resources for advertising
    AHPRA testimonial tool
    AHPRA Social Media Policy
    Dental fact sheet – Botox and dermal fillers
    AMA Introduction to social media
    RACGP Factsheet: Responding to online reviews
    Google guidelines to replying to online criticism – Read and reply to reviews

    MIPS is available 24/7 for Clinico-Legal Support on 1800 061 113

    Not a MIPS member? Find out more about membership at mips.com.au or call 1800 061 113

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    The materials provided are for educational purposes only. Whilst all reasonable care has been taken in preparing these materials, including the accuracy of the information supplied, MIPS does not accept any liability whatsoever arising out of the use or reliance of the information provided. Contact MIPS 24/7 Clinico-Legal Support 1800 061 113 or education@mips.com.au for specific advice.