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With a third of doctors using Facebook daily, social media guidance is much-needed

14 June 2012

MPS has submitted its response to the General Medical Council’s (GMC) consultation on explanatory guidance for Good Medical Practice, and in recognising that social media has caused some strife for doctors, MPS believes that it should form part of the main body of the guidance.

Dr Nick Clements, MPS Head of Medical Services says: "We are pleased that the GMC is providing specific guidance to address the increasing popularity in the use of social media websites, however we believe that it warrants its own section within Good Medical Practice.

"MPS has seen members get into difficulties for posting confidential or inappropriate comments on social media websites. Whilst social media present opportunities for doctors to network, engage with the public and get involved in public health discussions, there are potential pitfalls that doctors need to be aware of.

"In a recent survey1 of MPS members, we identified that Facebook is the most popular social media website with over one third of respondents (36%) using it daily. It is all too easy for boundaries between our professional and private lives to become blurred, however posting inappropriate comments or describing a patient’s care could lead to a breach of confidentially, damage to a doctor’s reputation and can harm the doctor–patient relationship.

"Although only one in five (21%) of MPS survey respondents said they used Twitter, it is the potential for a single comment to cause such widespread offence or problems that can impact on the doctor’s reputation and possibly even the medical profession as a whole. Doctors have to be aware that nothing they say online is anonymous and can often be traced back to its origin.

"This advice is not just for doctors using social networking websites such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+, but doctors’ forums and blogs such as Doctors should remember that the same standards of professionalism and confidentiality apply no matter what the medium of communication.

"An overall objective of the guidance is to provide clear messages on what is an acceptable use of social media, with explicit guidelines to adhere to. We think that it is much-needed guidance that has relevance in modern times; and as such, a concise set of guidelines should be included in the main body of Good Medical Practice."

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