Evolution of a revolution

ImageThe College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), the licensing body for the jurisdiction with the largest number of physicians in Canada, has just published social media guidelines for doctors.

The guidelines are succinct, reasonable and would not prompt most physicians to hide under their desks the first time reference to Twitter or Facebook is made.

The document, adopted by the College council in May, starts by noting:

“Many physicians are now using social media in their practices to interact with colleagues and patients, to seek out medical information online, and to share content with a broad audience.”

It goes on to state that if physicians comply with all existing professional expectations:  “social media platforms may present important opportunities to enhance patient care, medical education, professional competence, and collegiality, among other potential benefits.”

These kinds of statements show how far the Canadian medical profession and the regulatory authorities that govern them have come in their consideration of social media. The same is true of other countries such as the United Kingdom and the U.S.

When the Canadian Medical Association – which advocates for all physicians but does not regulate them – published their rules of engagement for social media 18 months ago, some were uneasy that the document talked about the potential benefits as well as the risks of social media (“While use of social media could potentially increase the exposure of physicians to disciplinary and medico-legal issues, those physicians who choose to use social media can help shape how these tools can improve health care in the future.”)

The CMA document came out at a time when regulatory authorities similar to the CPSO in Canada were either mute on the entire issue of social media or were cautionary in the extreme. One such body urged its members to stay away from Facebook entirely just because of the chasm of unprofessional behavior that might open before them should they be lured to the site.

The CPSO is not the only physician-related organization to have published social media guidance in recent months and most of these guidelines go over the same ground and at least acknowledge that some physicians are using social media and that some benefits may accrue to themselves and their patients as a result.

The content of the best guidelines are best encapsulated by this 12-word policy from Dr. Farris Timimi, Medical Director of the Mayo Clinic for Social Media: Don’t Lie, Don’t Pry, Don’t Cheat, Can’t Delete Don’t Steal, Don’t Reveal

Frankly, what many physicians interested in social media want now are practical tips on using the tools rather than high-level policy guidance. And that is what we should give them.

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