Social media abuse: Clinicians reveal patient info online

Some doctors and nurses use social media to disclose personal, sometimes humiliating information about patients, according to Slate.

For example, an emergency department physician at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital reportedly took photos of a model admitted for excessive alcohol consumption last June and posted them to his Facebook and Instagram accounts. In another incident, Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Mich., dismissed an off-duty employee for posting a picture of a female emergency room patient with the caption, "I like what I like," according to the article.

Not all of the inappropriate online activity is sexualized; for example, last year a doctor at St. John's Mercy Medical Center in Missouri posted a rant about a pregnant patient's habitual lateness, and disclosed that the patient had previously suffered a stillbirth, Slate reported.

But the problem may come down to more than a few isolated incidents. In a 2012 survey published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately 30 percent of state medical boards reported complaints of "online violations of patient confidentiality." More than 10 percent stated they had encountered a case that, like the Northwestern incident, involved an "online depiction of intoxication." Meanwhile, a 2011 study revealed that 13 percent of physicians report they have discussed individual, albeit anonymized, cases with other physicians in public online forums.

Perhaps hoping to avoid such incidents, trade groups like the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association are have set clear-cut standards for physician use of social media, with guidelines such as, "Be aware that any information [you] post on a social networking site may be disseminated (whether intended or not) to a larger audience." 

However, the expansion of social media may have positive implications for healthcare delivery as well. A November study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that Twitter could be useful in helping to track the spread of the flu, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's the article
- read the JAMA survey
- check out the study (.pdf)

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