This site is intended for health professionals only

Use Facebook and Twitter with care, warn medical defence bodies

By Ellie Broughton

GPs have been advised to be 'scrupulously careful' when using social networking sites – such as Facebook and Twitter – after a number of cases where doctors were cautioned for inappropriate behaviour on the internet.

Experts at the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland warn they have had a number of cases where doctors have been reported to NHS employers after using online forums to post critical comments.

Dr Anthea Martin, a senior medical adviser with the union, said misuse of Twitter or Facebook could leave GPs open to accusation of breaching patient confidentiality and bringing the profession into disrepute.

'Both could attract the attention of the GMC, which has the power to launch an investigation, suspend the doctor involved and – in the most extreme cases – remove them from the register.'

'Doctors must be scrupulously careful with their internet postings as providing information about patients, even if you do not name them, can still breach confidentiality.'

'And making derogatory or discriminatory comments about colleagues will fall foul of GMC guidelines that doctors must not make malicious or unfounded criticisms that may undermine patients' trust in the profession.'

A spokesperson for MDDUS added: 'We've had members use online forums and chatrooms to disparage patients or colleagues, which has brought their practice to the attention of NHS Employers.'

'Others have ignore the privacy settings on Facebook to reveal personal details.'

GMC guidance on the topic states: 'You must not put information you have learned in confidence about a patient in the public domain without that patient's express consent.'

Credit: Simon Steiner, Flickr Social media user