Medicine has always been quick to adopt and adapt new technologies and many advances in care have been due to utilising advances made in other branches of science.
As we enter the new information age, the phenomenon of social networking is changing the way doctors interact with their patients and wider society. Traditional boundaries between private and professional life are becoming blurred and the potential for members to inadvertently fall into medicolegal traps is increasing.
Professional bodies around the world have recognised both the potential for the good that social networking technologies offer and also the risks for the unwary.
Tweeting to one’s friends after a bad day at work or posting details of what you got up to at a party at the weekend on Facebook can often be seen by patients, colleagues and managers. When comments are posted on the blogosphere all control is lost and they are less private than remarks made on the back of a postcard.
The laws of defamation apply to comments that may have been originally designed to amuse your friends or written in the heat of the moment, but which end up being widely circulated just as much as more traditional channels of communication.
In the UK, the General Medical Council has recently published guidance on social media, which states that where doctors identify themselves as doctors in publicly accessible social media, they should also identify themselves by name because any written material by authors who represent themselves as doctors is likely to be taken on trust. This places an onus on doctors to be thoughtful in what they write.