The pandemic has led to concerns about health. Patients are wondering how to best protect themselves from COVID-19, they want to know what steps they should take to help reduce their risk, which steps are not necessary and which recommendations that they are hearing from the media, friends or loved ones are simply not helpful.
Physicians have access to information that can help their patients make more informed decisions. It may seem beneficial to post a medical opinion about this information online, perhaps on a Facebook or Twitter account, to increase your reach to patients that follow you as well as family and loved ones that may also have questions. But is this a good idea?
Using social media for medical advice — tread carefully
We already know that we must be careful with how we use social media. Anyone and everyone can view these postings. Do not presume that you can screen these accounts. Even when you change the settings to limit who can view the information, it is generally in your best interest to post with the presumption the information, comments, videos, pictures or whatever else you put online is part of the public domain.
Posting about the pandemic may get increased scrutiny
The discussion about the dos and do nots regarding COVID-19 is a hot topic. As such, any posting about the pandemic is more likely to get the public’s attention. Use even more vigilance when posting about COVID-19 to reduce the risk of scrutiny from public officials or your state medical board.
Although it is unlikely you would lose your license for general posts, any posting about COVID-19 or any other medical issue that the state medical board could consider “misinformation” is a different matter. The Federation of State Medical Boards recently issued a statement addressing this issue, warning medical professionals to avoid spreading misinformation on social media, and that such a posting could result in the loss of the poster’s medical license.
Unfortunately, the FSMB did not provide a formal definition for misinformation but stated it would provide further guidance at a later date. A spokesperson provided some clarification, noting misinformation is generally viewed as “sharing or distributing verifiably false information.”
Take allegations of posting misinformation or disinformation seriously
As noted above, an allegation that a post about COVID-19 or any other medical matter that the medical board deems to be misinformation or disinformation could lead to the loss of the poster’s medical license. Those who receive such a complaint should take it seriously and begin to take action to protect their license. This could include gathering evidence to support the validity of the post.