As at Q4 of 2014 Facebook had 1.39 billion monthly users. China (the most populous country in the world) has a population of 1.36 billion. Looked at these figures another way, 20% of the entire human population now log onto Facebook every month. Clearly the use of social media by doctors, dentists and nurses is a topic of great importance.
As with so many things in life, the codes provided by the GMC, GDC and NMC hopefully do nothing more than put “common sense” into written form.
The GMC Guidance on social media which came into effect in April 2013 can be found here.
Amongst other things, that guidance recommended that individuals who identify themselves as a doctor in publicly accessible social media, such as Twitter should describe themselves by name rather than use aliases.
After something of an outcry from Doctors that restricting their ability to post anonymously on social media infringed articles 8 and 10 of the Human Rights Act (which guarantee a right to a private life and a right to freedom of expression) the GMC clarified matters (by, of course, posting on Facebook):
“Failure to identify yourself online in and of itself will not raise a question about your fitness to practise.Any concern raised is judged on its own merits and the particular circumstances of the case. But a decision to be anonymous could be considered together with other more serious factors, such as bullying or harassing colleagues, or breaching confidentiality (or both) or breaking the law.”
“The GMC has no interest in doctors’ use of social media in their personal lives — Tweets, blogs, Facebook pages etc. But doctors mustn’t undermine public trust in the profession. Usually this means breaking the law, even where the conviction is unrelated to their professional life.”
The GDC guidance is found here here. Amongst other things it recommend that dentists should “think carefully before accepting friend requests from patients.” Perhaps the best course would be to decline such requests.
For nurses and midwives The new Code states at Clause 20:10 that nurses must uphold the reputation of their profession at all times by using “all forms of spoken, written and digital communication (including social media and networking sites) responsibly, respecting the right to privacy of others at all times”
This reinforces the 2012 Nursing and Midwifery Council guidance on the use of social media which all professionals would be advised to read.
That guidance gives some examples of the ways in which a nurse or midwife could put their registration at risk:
- sharing confidential information inappropriately;
- posting pictures of patients and people receiving care without their consent;
- posting inappropriate comments about patients;
- bullying, intimidating or exploiting people;
- building or pursuing relationships with patients or service users;
- stealing personal information or using someone else’s identity;
- encouraging violence or self-harm;
- inciting hatred or discrimination
Further useful guidance comes from the RCN and can be found here.