Social Media Postings by Doctors and other Healthcare Professionals
With the advancement of information technology including the use of social media, we acknowledge that professional and social boundaries have become blurred and this creates another form of risk communication. It is therefore of utmost importance for all health professionals including doctors to maintain professional ethics and practices when using social media as a communication channel. As much as we acknowledge the rights and importance of expression of opinions and comments on any health issues, professionalism and appropriateness shall be maintained at all times. This is to preserve professional conduct and also public confidence and trust to the healthcare system.
Sharing information about clinical experience in managing cases has been an ordinary practice in medicine. Not only it will create awareness but it is also an important tool to improve clinical knowledge and competency. Sharing information on case studies as seen on medical-related websites are among examples for such practices. Nowadays, various channels of social media are becoming a more preferred tool by healthcare professionals to share their experiences and knowledge. It is therefore important to emphasise the need to maintain professional ethics and conduct like what has been practiced before and this include among others, preserving anonymity of patient’s identifier and also to self ensure all discussions and debates are to be done in a healthy and professional environment. Inappropriate, emotional and irrelevant uses of words are not welcomed.
With regards to a recent Facebook posting by a medical officer on home birth delivery, it was observed that even though the patient’s identity remained anonymous in the posting, putting up the actual patient’s notes for public viewing is wrong, especially if it was done by a medical professional. Such practice is against the norms of accepted professional ethics and that will be addressed accordingly. The posting has triggered a cascade of reactions and comments, which has gone out of proportion and has created an uneasy feeling among the public. It is important to note that the Ministry does not encourage home delivery and suboptimal antenatal medical follow up. The choice of home delivery shall be a personal choice at one’s own risk. However, should any patient seek subsequent medical treatment following any complication of home delivery, it is an obligation of any medical professionals to attend to the case without any prejudice.
The Ministry of Health welcomes the role of healthcare professionals to continuously engage the public to create a better level of awareness on various health issues, for example the risks of home birth delivery and the potential loss of herd immunity as a consequence of anti-vaccination campaigns. However as mentioned above, I would like remind all healthcare professional to maintain their professionalism in communication.
Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah
Director General of Heath Malaysia
10 June 2015