American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Social Media Guidelines for DOs

Approximately 7 in 10 Americans​ use social media, according to a 2017 report from Pew Research CenterPatients are increasingly turning to social media for health and wellness content—and technology is radically changing how they navigate the healthcare delivery system. 

When handled properly, social media can be a valuable tool for osteopathic physicians, offering a platform to promote health information and the distinctive care DOs provide. The following social media guidelines are meant to be just thatguidelines and suggestions for professional conduct on social media. 

DOs engaging on social media should also be sure to comply with the established AOA Code of Ethics and refer to social media guidelines/policies (if available) from their respective specialties, state medical boards and/or employers.

Ensuring patient confidentiality

Patient privacy is of the utmost concern under ethical requirements and state and federal privacy laws, such as HIPAA. Osteopathic physicians should never post identifiable patient information on social media platforms. Even when posting anonymously or using what is believed to be an unidentifiable name, physicians should be aware of information being shared and avoid any information that could be traced to specific patients. This includes the posting of photos and videos. 

It is also good practice to use strict privacy settings to limit who can access your content and/or photos wherever possible. Be aware that no social media platform is completely secure. Privacy settings on social media sites often change, so be sure to confirm settings regularly.

Maintaining professional relationships

Just as with physician-patient interactions outside of social media, it is important to create and maintain clear and appropriate boundaries between a physician and a patient.

Many physicians choose to create separate accounts/pages/handles for their professional and personal interactions. DOs should feel comfortable ignoring personal requests from patients on accounts that are not used for professional purposes. If DOs have sites or accounts for professional purposes, when possible, keep conversations professional and refrain from posting personal information. Particular caution should be used with sites, such as Twitter, where many accounts do not allow you to limit who sees your posts.

Disclosing conflicts of interest

Osteopathic physicians have an obligation to disclose conflicts of interest. Any information or advice offered on a website or social media site should clearly state financial, professional or personal information that could impact any statements made. This includes discussions, reviews, retweets or other comments on products or services.

Think before posting

Manage your online presence carefully in status updates, tweets, blogs, and article posts. Avoid posting nonprofessional photos and language. Strive for accuracy, and when in doubt, pause and think carefully before posting in a public forum. Each post shared on social media platforms has the potential to negatively impact not only one’s own reputation, but also the public’s perception of the osteopathic medical profession. If you disagree with others’ opinions, keep it appropriate and polite. Avoid any negative statements about other medical professionals that could be construed as libelous. Also, use caution about statements made when responding to negative comments about you or your place of employment on social media. This applies on social media and other platforms (Yelp, Angie’s List, etc.) that allow patients to rate physicians and organizations that provide medical care.

When posting information, note whether information is based upon scientific studies, expert consensus, professional experience or personal opinion, when possible. Clearly stating that opinions are an osteopathic physician’s own is important when communicating on forums that may include patients.

Also be cautious when providing medical advice online. You could be liable for advice given to patients with whom you haven’t conducted an appropriate in-person exam. If giving advice it is advisable to recommend that patients seek in-person patient care for any medical concerns.

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