Do Ontario doctors need new social media guidance? Probably not.


The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) which serves as the regulatory body for physicians in the province has recently initiated a consultation process for updating its “Social Media: Appropriate Use for Physicians” document.

Last updated in 2013, CPSO describes the document as providing “general guidance and recommendations based on existing professional and legal obligations and their application to social media usage.”

The question is whether an update is required at this time and I would argue ‘probably not’.

When the CPSO approved the current set of social media guidelines in 2013, I described them as being “succinct, reasonable and would not prompt most physicians to hide under their desks the first time reference to Twitter or Facebook is made.”

In a blog post at that time titled “Evolution of a Revolution”, I wrote that the guidelines showed “how far the Canadian medical profession and the regulatory authorities that govern them have come in their consideration of social media.” I noted the same was true of other countries such as the United Kingdom and the U.S where other regulatory bodies had produced similar documents.

Fast forward 7 years.

The social media world has become a hazardous place for physicians and others to navigate and there are new platforms (TikTok immediately comes to mind) that did not exist when the current guidelines were in place.

But I would argue that the the professional obligations for physicians using social media remain the same as do the benefits for physicians using social media (as CPSO states: to enhance patient care, medical education, professional competence, and collegiality).

In fact I believe those professional obligations are the same no matter what the publishing medium or platform … or subject matter.

To quote a 2013 JAMA article:

“Physicians should just ask themselves whether what they are posting on social media is appropriate for a physician in a public space – with the issue of the content being professional or personal being irrelevant.”

In the current era with the recognition that social determinants of health as having a greater impact on personal health than medical care, one can hardly criticize a physician for speaking out about poverty, income, equity or any issue about which they feel strongly.

When I wrote my blog in 2013 I concluded by stating: “Frankly, what many physicians interested in social media want now are practical tips on using the tools rather than high-level policy guidance.”

Given the anecdotal evidence of many physicians continuing to get into trouble by making foolish errors on social media, I would argue that remains vitally important, perhaps even more so given the increasingly nuanced and hostile environment surrounding social media platforms.

However, I would also add that was is even more important is teaching medical students within the context of their professional education about the appropriate use of social media.


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