|Bernell Dorrough, web marketing coordinator for the USA College of Medicine, talks with medical students in the Class of 2014 during their first Rising Senior Meeting on Monday, January 14|
Medical students in the University of South Alabama College of Medicine's Class of 2014 got a crash course in best practices for social media during their first Rising Senior Meeting on Monday, January 14. Bernell Dorrough, web marketing coordinator for the College of Medicine and the USA Physicians Group, reminded students that posts on Facebook, Twitter and personal blogs always should be considered public.
"Many people, especially younger people who've been using social media their whole lives, think of it as a way to communicate with friends and family members," Dorrough explained after his presentation. "But between complicated privacy settings and friends who could inadvertently or even intentionally share content against your wishes, you have to assume anyone could see what you post."
Dorrough said this advice was particularly important for medical professionals because of the importance of maintaining patient confidentiality. Laws protecting private medical information, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), apply to all communications, including social media. A medical student might want to share about an exciting, fulfilling experience -- like observing a new procedure or helping to save a patient's life -- but even minor details could be used to identify the patient. Dorrough said the best bet is to avoid posting about work at all.
In addition to being mindful of patient privacy, Dorrough said medical students should maintain a professional presence online, just like anyone entering or already in the workforce.
"A photo showing you holding a beer at a summer barbecue probably isn't going to hurt your chances of getting a job," Dorrough said. "But photos showing irresponsible behavior could hurt someone's impression of you, whether that's a residency director or a potential patient."
Dorrough also discouraged the students from joining heated political discussions online. He said "liking" the page of a political candidate was usually fine, but attacking the other candidate and his or her supporters could alienate people easily.
Another tip? Medical professionals should never "friend" patients on Facebook, or accept their requests, unless they have a separate page just for their practice.
The American Medical Association's policies and advice about social media are available at http://www.ama-assn.org/go/socialmedia.