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Social media

Sharing responsibly

Developing your digital presence

You're more than just you. How does being a physician influence your social media presence? Society expects that physicians will adhere to the highest standards of professionalism. As a result, what you post on social media, whether in your personal or professional capacity, may lead to unintended consequences for you and others.

Image of domino effect demonstrates how what you do or post may have an impact on your classmates, medical school, career, peers, patients, employer, or profession

Social media offer opportunities and innovative options for learning and sharing information. The innovation, however, comes with risks. The consequences of unprofessional behaviour on social media are often more significant because of its reach (potential to go "viral") and permanency (leaves an electronic or digital footprint). Once posted or recorded, the ability to retract a comment, photo, or video is very limited.

"Intentional" versus "unintentional" online identities

You are responsible for what you personally post ("intentional" online identity). While you cannot completely control what information is posted by others about you ("unintentional" online identity), you can regularly monitor your online presence. Creating separate personal and professional social media identities may allow you to redirect users to your public professional profile. You should consider asking friends to refrain from tagging you in media (e.g. photos) that may be perceived as unprofessional.


Some authors suggest that one way that medical professionals can protect themselves while using social media is to post using a nickname or using a pseudonymous email address. While this may help you to minimize the availability of your personal information on social media, it does not give you full licence to post unprofessional content. The possibility of subsequently being identified as the author always exists.

Social Media Do's

  • Use it as a platform to share valuable information and resources
  • Maintain separate personal and professional identities
  • Update your privacy settings regularly
  • Manage digital distraction when you are providing clinical care

Social Media Don'ts

  • Violate/breach patient privacy
  • Provide personalized medical advice
  • Abuse/denigrate colleagues, patients, or organizations
  • Post without thinking of the consequences

Case: Using your smartphone in the workplace
Older woman wearing oxygen mask, lying on hospital stretcher


Angela, a first-year resident on call for orthopaedic surgery, is paged to the ward to assess an elderly female patient with fever after hip replacement surgery. The patient is not seen for several hours, and by the time Angela sees her, the patient is hypotensive and requires admission to the intensive care unit (ICU).
Female resident looking at smartphone

Hospital complaint

The family launches a complaint at the hospital that their mother was not seen promptly. In their complaint letter, they mention seeing Angela on the ward at several points earlier that evening talking animatedly and texting on her phone, seemingly oblivious to her on-call responsibilities.


Angela is required to meet with the postgraduate program director and to write a personal reflection about how her digital distraction could have resulted in a more serious patient outcome. The hospital considers whether it should develop a policy to guide smartphone usage by its employees.

Think about it

How often do you access texts, emails, or social media during the day? Could the frequency of your smartphone usage cause you to be distracted from your responsibilities?

Case: Blogging about patients
Angry man in front of computer


Gerard, an emergency physician working in a small town, posts on his secure personal Facebook page about a particularly difficult day at work. In his post, he mentions how he is aggravated by "worthless drug-seekers" who are the "scourge of society," displacing the needs of patients with "real concerns."
Young couple looking shocked by what they see on laptop computer

College complaint

Gerard receives a notice of complaint from his provincial regulatory authority (College), which was made by the relative of a patient he saw in the emergency department on the day of his Facebook post. The relative indicated the post had been forwarded to him by a friend, a family physician who is one of Gerard's Facebook contacts.


The complaints committee is concerned about Gerard's unprofessional comments and the impact on the profession. Gerard receives a verbal caution and is required by the College to attend a one-day course on professionalism.

Think about it

Does your post breach any privacy or professional obligations? Does what you post reflect what you would say in person to patients or others? Are you likely to feel the same way tomorrow, after your post has been viewed by others?

To learn about privacy issues with social media, see the section on eCommunication.