Safety of care

Improving patient safety and reducing risks

Emerging trends: Are you socially accountable?

Originally published October 2014

While individual physicians are at different stages in their use of social media, it is a journey virtually all physicians will eventually take. Social media is becoming so pervasive its importance as a channel to keep current on medical findings and to confer with colleagues is undeniable.1 While social media is increasingly used in medical education, research, and advocacy, it is patient expectations that are the driving force behind the uptake of social media among most physicians. Physicians who recognize their patients' expectations in the social media space may be better connected with them, which may help contribute to greater professional satisfaction and engagement.

A mindful approach

Physicians who engage in social media must be mindful of the potential risks and consequences of their online activities. Privacy and security of personal information remain important considerations. Doctors should be careful not to communicate specific patient health information on social media. Some privacy risks may be mitigated by communicating with patients as a group and using appropriate privacy settings for the social platforms being used. Regardless of privacy settings, however, information shared via social media should be considered public.

Maintaining standards of medical professionalism must also be at the forefront of social media usage by physicians. Physicians on social media are expected to be thoughtful, trustworthy, and respectful in their communications, in keeping with their professional standing in the larger community. This means maintaining appropriate boundaries in doctor-patient relationships and avoiding activities that might be interpreted as online misconduct. Physicians should keep abreast of their regulatory authority (College) guidelines on social media.

The road ahead

It is predicted that physicians will increasingly use social media channels to educate patients and peers, pose questions, and have discussions about innovations and knowledge. Over time, physicians are likely to seize opportunities to use emerging online channels to share health and clinical information and to provide patient and family support. As more doctors have success with social media, this will become part of physicians' social accountability.2 The regulatory framework to which physicians are subject, along with CMPA advice in this area, will continue to evolve as new uses of communication technology become more widespread.

In the longer term, the integration of the digital world and the real world is expected to further change how physicians — and indeed all people — communicate, learn, and interact.

The CMPA is here to help

The CMPA has extensive online resources to help physicians understand and comply with their obligations respecting privacy and confidentiality, and professionalism and boundary issues. Member physicians are also encouraged to contact the CMPA for individual advice and assistance.


  1., "Doctors turn to social media for medical information," December 2012. Accessed on April 29, 2014 from:
  2. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. "Is your practice social media savvy? Four tips to get you started!," Dialogue, (January 2014) Vol. 14, No.1. Accessed on April 30, 2014 from:

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this learning material is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific professional medical or legal advice, nor to constitute a "standard of care" for Canadian healthcare professionals. The use of CMPA learning resources is subject to the foregoing as well as the CMPA's Terms of Use.