Dialogue Volume 13 Issue 2 2017 - Page 44

practice partner Dr. Karen Devon sphere. Maintaining patient privacy and confi- dentiality isn’t the only legal and profes- sional consideration, but it is a primary one. Among the other obligations that the Col- lege notes regarding social media use: maintain professional boundaries with patients and those close to them; keep professional and respectful relationships (with patients, colleagues, other members of the health-care team); 44 Dialogue Issue 2, 2017 avoid conflicts of interest. They’re all important, but how to take care around privacy and confidentiality? Start with the assumption that all content on the Internet is public and accessible to all. When posting information online that relates to an actual patient, the College urges caution. An unnamed patient may still be identified through a range of other informa- tion, such as a description of their condi- tion, their area of residence, other details of the clinical encounter or a photo (even if blurred). Moreover, there’s an issue even if the only person who can identify the patient based on the information provided is the patient. That can still be a breach. On private forums, like online physician support groups, the same rules apply. Don’t count on the fact that these forums remain private. Any users might disseminate infor- mation beyond the group, where it can take on a life of its own. Or the forum’s security could be compromised. If you haven’t taken care to ensure the confidentiality of your new but the need to maintain patient pri- vacy and confidentiality is not. That demands a focus in the age of Face- book, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, blogs and the like. The media itself amplify the risks and concerns. Dr. Karen Devon, a surgeon at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, has written about social media use and doctors, includ- ing an essay for JAMA. She points out that the relative informality of social media, and the fact you can’t see your audience, can at times make you let down your guard. Any violation of privacy and confidential- ity is problematic. With social media, “there’s an exponential spread and a perma- nence,” says Dr. Devon. Every piece of material posted, every ex- change, raises the stakes. A breach of patient rights, whether intentional or inadvertent, can have a reach and a life forever. “Think before you post,” she says. To provide guidance to physicians, the College has published a document – Social Media: Appropriate use by Physicians – that clarifies how doctors can meet existing professional expectations in the social media comply with relevant legislation with respect to physician advertising; uphold the law related to defamation, copyright and plagiarism when posting content online; and