2016 has been the year of social media. From the Brexit referendum to the US Election, the last 12 months have borne witness to the increasing tendency for political and social debate to be conducted through the medium of Twitter hashtags and Facebook posts. It is unsurprising, therefore, that healthcare professionals are being reminded of the potential danger of this now not so new world.
The instinct may be to ignore it but there is merit in the reminder. The most recent came from the Medical Defence Union and emphasised the vulnerability of GPs to inappropriate advances on social media. A few months prior, in May 2016, the GMC released guidance for medical students on the importance of maintaining patient confidentiality on the same platforms.
Every UK-regulated healthcare professional must comply with their regulator’s code of conduct and every code contains a section on professional boundaries. Any perceived breach has the potential to result in a fitness to practise referral, subjecting the professional to unwanted scrutiny even in circumstances where no finding of impairment is ultimately made.
Even those who criticise the advancing intrusion of the regulators into the personal lives of professionals would acknowledge the inherent imbalance of power between healthcare professionals and their patients.
The extent to which this is true of course varies between individuals, but it cannot be ignored that a doctor, dentist or nurse (with access to your medical records and with the ability to treat your ills) is in a position of power and must be relied upon not to exploit their position.
Media commentary often centres on salacious aspects of professional boundaries; from the unwanted advances to the consensual relationships between professionals and patients. The potential dangers of social media, however, are far more wide ranging. Today, if someone is looking to mark the reputation of any individual, the internet is their first port of call.
Character assassination of those in the spotlight is nothing new but is made so much easier in the modern world by the access that the public has to what most of us consider to be our private social media world. One need look no further for an example than the innocent nurse initially arrested on suspicion of the Steeping Hill hospital poisonings. Whilst Victorino Chua was eventually found guilty of the murders, it was fellow nurse Rebecca Leighton whose Facebook photographs were splashed on the front pages and about whom numerous comment pieces were written based purely upon her social media profile.
Luckily, most of us will never face such an ordeal but we will encounter that one client who is frustrated that we are unable to work miracles. The one silly comment or photograph open to interpretation posted on social media could give that stranger the tools to hurt you personally and professionally.
Yes, we may have heard it all before but there are worse habits to get into than considering how your next Facebook photo or Twitter comment would look if pasted onto a tabloid’s front page.