Over regulation of social media in medicine: stifiling progress?

Dr. Google will tweet you now. Like?

Over the past three days, over 600 people involved in general practice education and training converged on Melbourne for the annual GPET conference. Peppered throughout the gathering were sessions relating to the current and more excitingly, possible future use of social media in the medical field. Some areas that have already started down this track and will in the future include:

  • National e-Health Record (PCEHR)
  • Registrar and medical student training
  • Connection of doctors, nurses and allied health
  • Patient education and FAQ videos or sites
  • Medical Practice information, booking and contact details
  • Videoconferencing between rural patients, GPs and specialists

At the afore mentioned GPET2012 conference, one notable session was run by noted internet savvy practitioner Dr. George Forgan-Smith (The Healthy Bear). He highlighted to the standing room only session the different uses of internet based systems. It was inspiring to hear about the use of exciting and ever-changing web-based tools. For example:

  • YouTube: for the production of medical themed videos
  • Facebook: for your own advice site and medical practice information
  • Yahoo Answers: providing common sense answers to those too scared to ask
  • Google: Patients being able to find you and your practice

It was especially heartening to listen to this doctor who has seen lots of misinformation on the internet trying to provide his own considered (and safer) information. As a GP registrar, I am both excited and wary of the prospect of this brave new world. Already after the conference and session run by Dr. Forgan-Smith, I am newly motivated to explore the role of producing amongst others: online teaching videos, patient consent videos and education snippets.

“why don’t they just get another cup?”

Recently, the national board AHPRA has released a consultation paper to help “to clarify…the expected standards relating to social media use.” Some blogs have already highlighted the lack of clarity offered by this statement. They have punctuated the areas (below) with related examples. I won’t delve into these myself, but please visit Impacted NurseCroakey and Phillip Darbyshire as all have summarised this very nicely.

  • Professional boundaries
  • Professional behaviour
  • Confidentiality and privacy

Interestingly, Impacted Nurse has observed that already their social media activity (along with mine and many others!) would already be in breach of the proposed policy. The whole tone of the AHPRA statement is restrictive and casts a dim view of social media in medicine. In fact it highlights a lack of knowledge and experience in the very area that they look to place boundaries around.

But AHPRA is not the first group to try to address professionalism relating to social media.  The Royal College of Nurses have already released useful and supportive guidelines. Medical peak representation bodies have also been proactive and drafted guidelines addressing these issues. The AMA DiT, NZMA DiT, NZMSA and AMSA released a joint initiative way back in 2010. They identified that there was the potential for legal and professional risks. As such, many medical defence organisations have drafted and published case studies, guidelines and recommendations for their members. In the age of an increasingly connected society and the further blurring of professional and social boundaries, an increase in medico legal cases with a social media focus is inevitable. Although I agree that there is a need for nationally regulated guidelines or policy regarding online conduct and behaviour, they need to be permissive enough to allow innovation and progress while maintaining professional standards. We must not let a nanny-state approach stifle this form of interaction that has to potential to do so much for a great number of patients in an increasingly fast paced online world.

Given that AHPRA is calling for feedback on the issue of social media in medicine, the lack of Twitter/Facebook*/YouTube presence is notable. Therefore, AHPRA is asking for feedback by regular old email (socialmediaconsult@ahpra.gov.au) by COB on 14 September 2012.

*The only AHPRA site to be found on Facebook is “Asociación Hondureña Protectora de los Animales y su Ambiente”

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A copy of the letter that I help GPRA co-author as a submission to AHPRA, sent on Friday 14th September 2012:

AHPRA SM Policy Response

 

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The story is picked up by Medical Observer on the 17th September 2012:

 

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Response from AHPRA on Wednesday 19th September 2012:

“Thank you for your submission to the preliminary consultation process on the National Boards’ draft Social Media Policy.

Your feedback will be considered by National Boards but as this was a preliminary consultation process, your feedback will not be published.

There will also be a public consultation process in which you are also welcome to participate, and information will be available on the Board’s website about this soon.

Thank you again for your interest in this issue.”

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2 Comments

Filed under AHPRA, e-Health, General Practice, Health Policy, Rural GP

2 responses to “Over regulation of social media in medicine: stifiling progress?

  1. Gerry, this is important stuff. Am sure you’re reading about the #FOAM revolution…my fear is that AHPRA will stifle it, regulate it but not attempt to understand it. So – is there any sort of mass protest planned? Or even an articulate debate? Have we missed the deadline to contest this?

    • gerryconsidine

      Loving the FOAM stuff. I think AHPRA will be taking additional submissions shortly. We’re at least hoping for some stakeholder input or even SOME presence of theirs on social media. Are you on Twitter? Its where this first initial scuffle was mobilised from. Can help you get started if you’re not familiar

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