Posted in #HCSM

Public Disclosure on Twitter of Identifiable Patient Information by Health Professionals

Social media tools provide a unique set of opportunities in healthcare, but with these new opportunities come a number of potential challenges.

As health care professionals (HCPs) navigate the increasingly complex world of social media, concerns have arisen regarding questions of ethics and professionalism and how the use of social media fits within the social contract between the medical profession and society.

In order to maintain the trust of the public and that of individual patients, HCPs increasingly need to understand the limits and risks of disclosure of certain types of information online. 

A study published in 2020 which sought to quantify potentially identifiable content shared on Twitter by physicians and other health care providers found nurses, physicians, and other health professionals may sometimes share more information than patients or families might expect.

The retrospective study describes a physician-initiated event sharing health-related stories and information on Twitter using the hashtag #ShareAStoryInOneTweet. The tweeted stories became widely shared, attracting media attention and disseminating the information widely. Almost none (either explicitly or appear to) confirm consent to share information publicly. HCPs commenting using the hashtag were “more likely to express support for the event and encourage others to participate than they were to raise concerns about patient privacy breaches.”

The study showed a relatively high incidence of sharing stories including details that might make them potentially identifiable to patients themselves or to families and friends in a setting that involved a large number of health care professionals. This finding highlights a lack of awareness about the privacy issues intrinsically connected to interactions on social media. 

The study authors conclude with recommendations for more research to confirm the findings of this study and determine how to ensure physicians, nurses, and other professionals adapt their behavior to maintain medical professionalism in the digital age. This will required greater specification of professional ethical standards in this context along with evidence-based training in ethical digital communications skills for the undergraduate, graduate, and continuing medical education.

Ahmed W, Jagsi R, Gutheil TG, Katz MS
Public Disclosure on Social Media of Identifiable Patient Information by Health Professionals: Content Analysis of Twitter Data
J Med Internet Res 2020;22(9):e19746

Related Reading: Social Media: Professional Boon or Bane? It’s Complicated

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