Doctors' freedom of self-expression may be under fire

You may remember the TV character Archie Bunker frequently telling his long-suffering wife Edith to "stifle" herself. Now some wonder whether physicians are receiving the same message.

Physicians may find themselves under more mandates than ever when it comes to their appearance and conduct, according to a Medscape article. Physicians who work in private practice may have few restrictions on individual self-expression. However, with an increasing number of physicians becoming employees, they are subject to their employer's rules and regulations, which can limit personal expression, the article says.

"Dress codes, rules about social media postings, and even restrictions on personal habits may be allowable under federal and state labor laws," according to the Medscape report.

More physicians work in clinics that are owned by hospitals and those organizations have an interest in protecting their brand, meaning they have zero tolerance for a physician who tarnishes that brand through bad behavior, Pamela A. Rowland, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist and associate chair of education in the Department of Surgery at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told Medscape.

State medical boards, which monitor physician conduct, also push the boundaries, and have reportedly disciplined physicians for behaviors that have nothing to do with clinical practice, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or failure to disclose information for child-support payments, according to the article.

The article does recommend steps that physicians can take to protect themselves.

Know the rules. If physicians are employees of an organization, they should receive guidelines as to what's acceptable in terms of dress and appearance.

Separate personal and professional lives. When it comes to social media, physicians should keep the two separate, the article recommends. For example, they should have separate Facebook pages for their practice and personal life. They should think twice before posting information and not "friend" patients.

To learn more:
- read the article