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Social media: The perils of posting while at work

04 May 2022 | Avant Media

Originally published in May 2018 and updated May 2022

You’re an RMO working in a public hospital. You and your peers are in your scrubs waiting for the surgeon to arrive before you go into the operating theatre.

One of your colleagues decides to get out their mobile phone and send a photo using Snapchat of the team waiting around, with the caption “just another day in surgery, waiting for the surgeon”.

The Snapchat message is sent to a few of their colleagues. The message does the rounds and the surgeon ends up receiving it as well. Despite the Snapchat messaging being sent innocuously, as your colleague is merely eager to get into the operating theatre, the surgeon reacts angrily as they believe it’s a jibe at them.

This scenario raises questions that are common across all social media platforms about what is appropriate while at work and becoming more frequent given the accessibility of technology on smartphones. So before you post, it’s important make sure you aren’t breaching any professional, legal or workplace obligations, or publishing something you will later regret.

What are your obligations?

As a doctor, you’re required to meet certain standards of professional behaviour, which are outlined in the Medical Board of Australia - Good medical practice: a code of conduct for doctors in Australia. Social media: How to meet your obligations under the National Law released by Ahpra and the National Boards, updated in 2019, confirms that the professional obligations in the Code of Conduct apply when using social media.

It’s more than likely that the hospital you work at, or the health service running it, also has a social media policy. It’s important you familiarise yourself with and abide by it, particularly concerning the use of patient information. Generally, these policies prohibit using social media in a way that would breach a law – for example, privacy, defamation, confidentiality, discrimination or harassment, intellectual property, competition and consumer laws – or that would bring your employer into disrepute. It may also prevent you from commenting on workplace matters.

If you’re intending to use any patient information, even de-identified, you should be aware that such patient information may be the property of the hospital and should not be used without the entity’s consent, as well as any relevant patient consent.

Once it’s out there, there’s no taking it back

Your social media profile will often connect your professional and private personas, so your private actions on social media may very well reflect on your public persona. When using any social media platform, you should assume that at some stage a patient or colleague may be able to see your activity – consider whether you are comfortable with that before posting.

Make sure you know the identity of people who you accept connection requests from - avoid accepting any from patients. It may be appropriate to be followed by or connected with patients and the general public on some platforms - ensure you maintain professional boundaries in these situations.

Key tips

  • Be aware of your professional, legal and employment obligations when using social media.
  • Understand the privacy settings of all your social media accounts and review these regularly.
  • Obtain and document patient consent to use any patient information, even if it is de-identified.
  • If in doubt, don’t post.

Further resources:

Medical Board of Australia: Social media: How to meet your obligations under the National Law

Avant factsheets: Social media for doctors: keeping it professional

AMA/MIIAA Guide: Clinical images and the use of personal mobile devices – a guide for medical students and doctors

Social media and the medical profession: a guide to online professionalism for medical practitioners and medical students

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