This is a post for participants in the #pht402 Professional Ethics online course being run by the University of the Western Cape and Physiopedia. Since few of our participants have much experience engaging as professionals in online spaces, this post aims to suggest some resources that might be useful in terms of developing skills in online professional communication.
One of the things I’ve already noticed in some participants’ blogs is the use of images that show patients. We need to use caution when uploading pictures into online spaces, since they become circulated far more widely than was the original intention. Even if you did obtain the patient’s permission to take the photo, did you get permission to share it with others? With the world? We often use pictures like that because it really does show people a part of ourselves that we want to share but we need to be mindful of the other people in the picture. When it comes to our own professional practice, there are different sets of rules that apply. Information shared with us during patient interactions (and photos are just visual information) are private and confidential and there is an expectation that it will not be shared beyond the scope of practice.
What about discussing patients, clinicians, clinical placements, lecturers or anyone else who you interact with in the course of your studies? What is the difference between having those conversations with peers and teachers in the classroom, and having the same conversation online? Well, for one thing, online almost always equals in public. And in this course, it most definitely will be public. When it comes to patient privacy and confidentiality, the same rules apply for both online and offline practice. The rule of thumb I always use is to ask myself how (or if) I would say what I want to say if the person I was talking about was going to read my work? What if the person you’re talking about comes across your post one day when you apply for a job at their institution? Even if you’re not talking about them, will they want to hire someone who speaks poorly of a colleague in public?
The other thing that you need to think about is how you feel about sharing your own life online. Even though sharing your thoughts and feelings is encouraged as part of this course, you should never feel pressured or obligated to put online something that you’d prefer to keep private. You can be as public or private as you like. I personally share very little of my personal life online but write often about my feelings around my professional life. My emotional response to the professional context is something I’m very comfortable sharing. However, my emotional response to things that happen in my personal life is not for the public view. That’s just how I prefer to establish the boundaries of my online presence – you can choose what works for you.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we should always be mindful about what and how we share online. When something is discussed in an elevator, it’s ephemeral. When the same thing is discussed online, it will exist forever.
Here are some resources that you may find helpful as we move forward over the next few weeks:
- General Medical Council – Social media: What does it mean for you?
- General Medical Council – Doctors use of social media (direct link to PDF for download)
- British Medical Association – Using social media: Practical and ethical guidance for doctors and medical students (direct link to PDF for download)
- British Medical Association Key Guidance on Ethics (not specific to the use of social media but general ethical guidelines)