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Patient privacy and social media for urologists

doctor on phone mobile social media
doctor on phone mobile social media

Examining the use of social media amongst urologists today: benefits, pitfalls and guidance around the use of patient data in the public domain.

Paradigm shift in how physicians communicate

The internet has changed the way we communicate and share information. With its unparalleled reach, diversity of users and content creators, it offers unique opportunities for individuals to inform, connect, and collaborate across the world.

Social media occupies a large part of time spent on the internet and has created an environment where almost nothing is private, and everything is a matter of public record.

Patient health information can only be included in social media posts if a patient has given their consent, in writing.

Physicians have actively taken to using social media daily to facilitate discussions about everything from medical advancements to patient care. Those who use it responsibly know it can be a powerful professional and personal tool that can help crowdsource opinions instantly. However, it can also damage careers and doctor-patient relationships when patient information is shared.

Physicians are responsible for protecting patient privacy

With thousands of medical images bearing patient information being shared on social networks like Twitter and Facebook every day, patient privacy has emerged as one of the lightning rods in the discussion around patient health information and its use on social media.

According to the American Urological Association, 74% of urologists have a social media account and use them actively to post, curate and comment or read clinical content. (AUA, 2014)

When polled about their awareness of how to use social media responsibly, urologists and other physicians cited suboptimal formal training in professional conduct online, as well as a lack of awareness regarding what professional guidelines to follow.

This has resulted in numerous reports of GMC and HIPAA violations where physicians have been chastised and taken to task for insensitive and reckless use of social media in the workplace.

Blatant breaches of confidentiality, personal data protection, and ethical norms regulating the use of social media are usually cited as cause for suspension and sometimes termination.

Physicians must restrain use on social media

Organisations like the BMA, GMC and HIPAA have published detailed guidance around how physicians should conduct themselves on social media with a view to protect patient privacy.

“PHI [Patient Health Information] can only be included in social media posts if a patient has given their consent, in writing, to allow their PHI to be used and then only for the purpose specifically mentioned in the consent form.” (HIPAA, 2018)

The rise of compliant platforms for case discussion

To facilitate a more responsible approach to discussing clinical cases, services such as MedShr – an app (see right) for doctors to discuss clinical images and cases, have started to grow both in terms of popularity and reach.

Medical and healthcare professionals can use MedShr to view and share clinical cases and images in a GMC and HIPAA compliant environment. The platform offers advanced features such as the ability to conceal patient identifying features on images to ensure that patient confidentiality is upheld as well as requesting patient consent in-app.

In addition, all its members are verified doctors and healthcare professionals.

As a measure of success, MedShr is now used by over 600,000 doctors across the globe.

Quick guidance for urologists

  • Pick GMC and HIPAA compliant services to discuss clinical cases and images
  • Make sure identifiable patient information is redacted when sharing cases
  • Obtain patient consent before discussing a patient case

Lushani Suntharanathan

HEE Fellow, MedShr


Stefania Gancitano 

Digital Marketing Executive

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