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30-04-2012 | Article

GMC move on social media is welcome

Widespread use of the Internet, facilitated by the roll-out of broadband and mobile Internet access has led to the rise of social media. The definition of social media, to keep it simple, is use of websites such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with other people or communities of people. A more sophisticated definition can be found in the Wikipedia entry (click here).

One of the huge advantages of social media is the easy ability to air your views or thoughts to a potentially large, online audience. For a GP, however, this may be a disadvantage, as views or thoughts aired publicly could blur the sharp border between the public and professional image of a doctor. The General Medical Council (GMC) has quite rightly taken an interest in this issue, as highlighted in the news last week (click here).

According to this article, "the GMC is urging GPs to give their views on draft guidance it has drawn up for the use of social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter". Furthermore, it points out that "the draft guidance reminds doctors that they must follow usual guidance on patient confidentiality when using social media - and that such sites cannot guarantee confidentiality whatever privacy settings are in place".

We need trusted guidance in this field. Social media is now a common communications technology and who knows where it will lead. In a relaxed environment, it is possible to publish something that is not professionally acceptable and may be regretted at a later date.

In the meantime, be careful and cautious about what you say and do online. Furthermore, accept it is a public forum where the usual rules of professional practice apply. Shouldn't we know what is acceptable behaviour both in the virtual and real world? Of course, the answer is yes - but guidance like this can remind us how to avoid falling into traps. The consequences of getting it wrong can be huge, so clear and sensible guidance from the GMC is a positive step.

Best wishes,

Harry

Dr Harry Brown, editor-in-chief univadis

By Dr Harry Brown