Doppelgänger docs of the Rockies

A physician’s reputation is one of their most important and prized assets.

The advent of the Internet and social media have produced a vastly increased scope for physicians to increase their reputations. To quote Texas pediatrician Dr. Bryan Vartabedian, “the democratization of media has made every physician an independent publisher …physicians now have to learn to manage and maintain their identity in the public space.”

While social media has produced huge opportunities for enhancing reputations, at the same time it has created a whole new set of challenges and threats to how physicians are seen by prospective patients, their communities, and others. This would explain why the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) has chosen to allot such a large segment of its updated advisory to physicians on social media to the topic.

In the document released in August which updates earlier advice from 2014, the CPSA notes that “recent studies show that up to 50% and that being impersonated online in a negative manner can have devastating consequences, both personally and professionally.”

The College goes on to provide a list of tips on how physicians can protect themselves against such fraudulent accounts. These include:

  • Providing a detailed professional biography in their social media profile
  • Checking comments and messages daily (emphasis mine) to see if fraudulent activity has been noted by contacts
  • Checking security settings to ensure your posts and account information are only visible to the people who you want to see them.
  • Enabling two-factor authentication on accounts
  • Not linking your social media accounts so posts from one account automatically post on another account
  • Using secure passwords

The College also provides advice on what to do if you think your account has been taken over and goes as far as to provide an example of suggested wording of what to post to your legitimate social media accounts if you have been a victim of a fraudulent account.

All of this is sound advice, but it demonstrates how the various physician regulatory Colleges across the country have taken very different approaches to what they choose to emphasize when talking about social media. The Alberta College renewed guidance comes at about same time that the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario also published revised guidelines on social media. The new CPSO guidelines make no reference to fraudulent accounts choosing rather to emphasize the need to publish only evidence-based materials (However both Alberta and Ontario as well as regulatory bodies in other jurisdictions stress the need for physicians to act professionally and protect patient confidentiality if they speak to the social media at all – and some still do not).

Oh, if you are concerned about having your own accounts hijacked or in checking your online reputation Googling yourself regularly to see how you are portrayed online is a tried and true method of doing so.

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