Social media impacts many people’s careers, and physicians are no exception. Many physicians find social media to be an excellent tool for educating patients on how to stay healthy. While this can certainly be a useful way to disseminate such information, maintaining the utmost professionalism on social media apps is essential for physicians. Should they veer into a more familiar tone, physicians run a significant malpractice-suit risk.

According to California-based personal-injury attorney Martin Gasparian, Esq., TikTok offers a convenient platform from which physicians can educate patients. TikTok allows doctors to efficiently deliver relevant, reliable information to patients, helping them correct misinformation and explain complex medical concepts that may be trending. However, Gasparian notes that ensuring factual accuracy and protecting patient privacy are crucial rungs on any doctor’s social media ladder. Prioritizing trends over research-backed data will compromise a physician’s professionalism and could even prompt their social-media followers to do something potentially harmful. As such, Gasparian suggests that physicians not post at all on apps like TikTok, instead sticking to more educational platforms like Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter.

Maintaining professionalism on social media means using extremely conservative judgment when it comes to filming or discussing patients. This ensures a physician’s proper adherence to privacy laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Gasparian urges physicians to remember that HIPAA law renders physician-patient relationships fully confidential, and violating HIPAA can lead to everything from reputation damage to job loss to costly litigation. Gasparian adds that while physicians do have the option of requesting that patients sign a social-media video consent form, such a measure may not be robust enough to prevent a malpractice suit. What’s more, it certainly wouldn’t prevent negative social-media commentary or backlash. Posts can have enduring effects that may last years and potentially impact major life decisions like schooling and careers. They can also be manipulated by third parties and reposted to reach a wider viewership. According to Gasparian, what may be educational for one audience may be a source of entertainment for another. Once anything is posted on social media, it takes on a life of its own. The poster loses control of how their posted images and videos get used and transformed and who will end up seeing their posts, both original and altered.

Nonetheless, many physicians feel that the benefits of educating patients via social media outweigh the risks. For physicians in that camp, Gasparian urges adopting a lengthy, thorough process to uphold patient privacy by ensuring that both the patient and the physician are on the same page. Included in this process would be extensive and detailed patient consent, obtained through actions like explaining in detail how the physician plans on employing a patient’s image or videos on social media and allowing the patient to ask questions about it. Physicians must explain any involved risks, even the most outlandish scenarios. It would also behoove physicians to seek out second and third opinions before making any posts.

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Physician’s Weekly | November 7, 2023

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