Ethics and Privacy: Social Media Use by Healthcare Professionals

Respecting patient privacy and confidentiality is critical for doctor-patient relationships and public trust in medical professionals. However, during online viral campaigns and sharing in the online world nurses, physicians as well as other healthcare professionals may inadvertently disclose more information that might be expected from both patients and families.

One of the dangers of sharing information publicly on social media is that information can be shared in seconds but it can be difficult to completely remove content once it is out there. Viral tweets, for instance, might get tagged in news articles or printed in journals which could pose a challenge in having the content removed.

In our latest paper for the Journal of Medical Internet Research we studied the hashtag #ShareAStoryInOneTweet with the aim of  quantifying potentially identifiable content shared on social media by physicians and other health care providers.

To quote our abstract we found that:

Health care professionals (n=656) disclosing information about others included 486 doctors (74.1%) and 98 nurses (14.9%). Health care professionals sharing stories about patient care disclosed the time frame in 95 tweets (95/754, 12.6%) and included patient names in 15 tweets (15/754, 2.0%). It is estimated that friends or families could likely identify the clinical scenario described in 242 of the 754 tweets (32.1%). Among 348 tweets about potentially living patients, it was estimated that 162 (46.6%) were likely identifiable by patients. Intercoder reliability in rating the potential identifiability demonstrated 86.8% agreement, with a Cohen κ of 0.8 suggesting substantial agreement. We also identified 78 out of 754 tweets (6.5%) that had been deleted on the website but were still viewable in the analytics software data set.”

Be sure to check out our paper here: https://www.jmir.org/2020/9/e19746/

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