On Facebook and Twitter: Your Medical Troubles?

Next time you're recovering from trip to the emergency room, keep an eye on the young doctors tending to you. They might be chatting about your case on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs.

A survey of medical schools published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 13 percent of respondents reported breaches of doctor-patient confidentiality, and 60 percent reported "unprofessional content" posted online.

Many of the unprofessional postings cover the kinds of things you'd expect from young folks, such as drinking and obscenities. But in some instances, students went into detail about cases, to the point that patients could be identified.

According to the Associated Press, one of these incidents described a patient's case on Facebook, and another involved a student requesting an inappropriate relationship with a patient.

Survey responses came anonymously from school deans, so while instances of confidentiality breaches are rare, it's likely that more violations aren't being reported. For example, the study's lead author, Dr. Katherine Chretien of the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center, searched YouTube and found students playing a prank with a dead body, though it's not known whether the body was real.

Most of the medical students that behaved badly online were given a warning, but 7 percent of cases resulted in expulsion.

The bigger concern is that 62 percent of the medical schools don't have policies to govern how students are allowed use social networking sites. And the vast majority of those schools aren't actively working on the issue, either.

As anyone who's vented about work online knows, sites like Facebook and Twitter can be a good outlet. It can even be productive, but students need to be told when they enroll that discussing medical details online is off limits.

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