GMC consults on guidance for GPs using Facebook and Twitter

By Marina Soteriou, 23 April 2012

Draft guidance on how doctors should be using social media has been launched by the GMC.

The consultation on the 22-point guidance runs until 13 June and covers Twitter, forums, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook and LinkedIn.

The GMC says doctors should use the same standards as expected in ‘face-to-face exchanges’, phone or email. 

As well as reminding doctors to be honest and not to use social media to discuss individual patients or their care, with the patients or anyone else, the guidance says:

  • When you post material online, you should be open about any conflict of interest and declare any financial or commercial interests in healthcare organisations or pharmaceutical and biomedical companies. You must follow the guidance in Financial and commercial arrangements and conflicts of interest.
  • You must be honest and trustworthy in all your communication with patients and colleagues.
  • If a patient contacts you through a private profile, you should explain that it is not appropriate to mix social and professional relationships and, where appropriate, direct them to your professional profile.
  • Although individual pieces of information may not alone breach patient confidentiality, the sum of published information online could be sufficient to identify a patient or someone close to them. You should also consider the additional information that is available through electronic formats, such as GPS coordinates embedded within photographs or other social media content.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson, said: ‘Online communication has become a key part of every doctor’s personal and professional life, and the use of social media is now very common. These newer forms of communication can be incredibly useful but it is important that the standards of behaviour and respect for others which are expected from doctors in the ‘real’ world are also observed online.

‘Our guidance is designed to reflect what is expected of doctors by their patients, the profession and the wider public. That is why we are asking for comments to ensure this latest set of guidance reflects what doctors, patients and others feel is of value.

‘We are keen to hear from anyone with an interest in any of the matters covered.’

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