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American College of Physicians and Federation of State
Medical Boards encourage doctors to always 'pause before posting'
and not 'friend' patients in new policy paper
April 11, 2013 -- The creation and use of information online and
the widespread use of the Internet offer exciting new opportunities
for patient care, but also require physicians to consider how to
best protect patient interests and apply principles of
professionalism to online settings, the American College of
Physicians (ACP) and the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB)
said today in a newly released policy paper, "Online Medical
Professionalism: Patient and Public Relationships."
"Digital communications and social media use continue to
increase in popularity among the public and the medical
profession," said Phyllis Guze, MD, FACP, chair, Board of Regents,
ACP. "This policy paper provides needed guidance on best practices
to inform standards for the professional conduct of physicians
Published online today at www.acponline.org and
www.annals.org and in the April
16 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, the paper
examines and provides recommendations regarding the influence of
social media on the patient-physician relationship. It also
addresses the role of online media and public perception of
physician behaviors and strategies for patient-physician
communications that preserve confidentiality while best utilizing
"It is important for physicians to be aware of the implications
for confidentiality and how the use of online media for
non-clinical purposes impacts trust in the medical profession,"
said Humayun Chaudhry, DO, MS, FACP, president and CEO, FSMB.
Notable recommendations from ACP and FSMB include:
The paper includes a chart of online activities, potential
benefits and dangers, and recommended safeguards for physician
For example, communicating with patients using e-mail offers the
potential benefits of great accessibility and immediacy of answers
to non-urgent issues. The potential dangers are confidentiality
concerns, replacement of face-to-face or phone interaction, and
ambiguity or misinterpretation of digital interactions. The
safeguards include reserving digital communications for patients
that maintain face-to-face follow-up only.
The paper was authored by ACP's Ethics, Professionalism and
Human Rights Committee; ACP's Council of Associates; and FSMB's
Committee on Ethics and Professionalism.
About the American College of Physicians
The American College of Physicians is the largest
medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician
group in the United States. ACP members include 133,000 internal
medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and
medical students. Internal medicine physicians are specialists who
apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the diagnosis,
treatment, and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum
from health to complex illness. Follow ACP on Twitter and Facebook.
About the Federation of State Medical
The FSMB is a national non-profit organization representing all
medical boards within the United States and its territories that
license and discipline allopathic and osteopathic physicians and,
in some jurisdictions, other health care professionals. It assists
these state and territorial medical boards as they go about their
mandate of protecting the public's health, safety and welfare. The
FSMB leads by promoting excellence in medical practice, licensure
and regulation. For more information, please visit www.fsmb.org.