Professionalism Standards in Social Media

Social media is a term that describes the various web-based networking sites that students use to communicate and connect. The most popular examples are Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Blogs are also a form of social media that provide commentary or serve as a personal on-line diary.

LMU-DCOM recognizes the major advantages of social networking sites. Not only do they connect students quickly and widely, they also provide valuable exchanges of information and the ability to comment, to critique and to carry on dialogue. However, the University also recognizes that this technology imposes additional standards for professional behavior upon medical and health professions students. A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (September 23/30, 2009; 302: 1309-1315) found that 60 percent of U.S. medical school deans reported incidents in which students had posted unprofessional content online. The unprofessional postings included profanity, discriminatory statements, alcohol abuse, sexually suggestive material and a few incidents in which patient confidentiality was violated.

The following guidelines that pertain specifically to social media:

  1. Confidentiality and HIPAA Compliance: Health care providers have a professional obligation to maintain the confidentiality of patient information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) imposes additional obligations of non-disclosure. Some students do not realize that posting information about nameless patients is still a violation of the confidentiality obligation and may be a HIPAA violation. Therefore, when using social networking sites, do not post any information regarding a patient; do not post photos of surgical cases; do not discuss personal characteristics; do not discuss hospital/clinic procedures.
  2. Anatomy Lab: The dissection lab is made possible through the generosity of individuals who have donated their bodies to further medical studies. Out of respect for body donors and their families, students are not to discuss or disclose any information pertaining to the donor, or to describe dissection stages, outside of the anatomy lab. The honor of learning the art of anatomy from donated bodies calls for the highest levels of respect both inside and outside the lab. Anatomy faculty members provide appropriate training on standards of behavior during the lab sessions. It is the student’s responsibility to carry this training forward and demonstrate appropriate respect for donors in all aspects of academic and professional life. Cameras and cell phones are strictly prohibited in the anatomy lab. The LMU-DCOM anatomy lab is off-limits to non-DCOM personnel, including family and friends of LMU-DCOM students.
  3. Digital Footprint: While quick and far-reaching, social media are also fairly permanent. Although you may think you have deleted an inappropriate post, it is probably archived in someone’s file. The American Medical Student Association advises students: “If you would be embarrassed if your Dean read your statements, then you are better off not posting them.”
  4. Impact: Prospective employers surf social networking sites to check out your background, interests, and professional standards. Don’t post inappropriate photos that provide unflattering references. And choose your friends wisely. Remove any unprofessional postings to your wall as soon as possible.