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Physician Social Media Behavior May Impact Patient Trust

A physician’s behavior on social media may have an impact on patient trust, according to a recent survey from the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS). The study is published in the latest volume of AJOB Empirical Bioethics.

A previous survey of more than 4,000 physicians found that 90% use at least one social media platform for personal activities, and 65% used platforms for professional reasons. Consequences for missteps on social media by medical students and practitioners have included medical school or job dismissal and board sanctions. The American Medical Association established a social media policy encouraging physicians to separate personal and professional information online and recognize professional boundaries when interacting with patients online.

The cross-sectional survey, led by first author Javad John Fatollahi, MD ’17, chief resident in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at SMHS, assessed patient trust using six hypothetical scenarios.

Respondents to the survey indicated they would have less trust in their physician if they posted racist comments, wrote a disrespectful patient narrative, appeared intoxicated in a photo, or used profanity on social media. Both patient age and education status seemed to impact responses.

“While institutions have developed professionalism policies to guide physicians’ social media behaviors in light of professionalism lapses, the public’s view of physician social media behavior is poorly understood,” said Katherine Chretien, MD, associate dean for student affairs and professor of medicine at SMHS and senior author of the study. “Better understanding can help guide physicians’ social media practices and inform educational efforts.”

Before posting anything to social media, the authors recommend that physicians consider the possible impact content could have on the physician-patient relationship. According to the team, the findings from the survey should be included in medical school and residency curricula addressing online professionalism, patient communication, and/or ethics.

The article, titled “The Impact of Physician Social Media Behavior on Patient Trust,” is published in AJOB Empirical Bioethics and is available here.