AHPRA’s new social media policy

AHPRA social media policyLast year’s draft social media policy by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) caused a lot of upheaval. Health professionals expressed concerns it was too prescriptive. Now there’s a new version and the organisation is requesting feedback.

It looks like AHPRA has taken the feedback on board, but do we need more regulation in health care?

A 76-page consultation paper has been posted on the AHPRA website and it includes drafts of the social media policy, revised Code of conduct, revised Guidelines for advertising and revised Guidelines for mandatory notifications.

It looks like AHPRA has taken the feedback on the earlier version on board. The new draft Social media policy is less prescriptive. Health professionals have to follow strict professional values, no matter if they’re in the elevator at work, the pub, or on Twitter or Facebook. For that reason there’s no real need for a social media policy and I’m glad the current draft is only two pages long. However, social media rules have now been sprinkled throughout the Code of conduct and Guidelines for advertising (these two documents are mentioned eleven times in the text of the draft social media policy).

What does it say?

Most of it is common sense, but I thought these two changes were worth mentioning:

  • Health practitioners are expected to behave professionally and courteously to colleagues and other practitioners, including when using social media (Code of conduct 4.2c).
  • Testimonials on Facebook and other social media networks have to be removed by health practitioners (Guidelines for advertising 7.2.3).

I’ve read all 76 pages but it’s still not clear to me what exactly a testimonial is and whether I’m now required to remove my LinkedIn testimonials and endorsements by colleagues from around the world. Also, it looks like the practice Facebook page will become a public complaints register as positive feedback that smells like a testimonial will have to be deleted to avoid litigation. It will need a lot of explaining when removing friendly, unintended testimonials from our patients, and worse, it will put health practitioners off social media. And I won’t mention Google testimonials – they are impossible to remove. Let’s hope AHPRA can provide some clarification and reassurance here.

Interestingly, an issue that causes heated debates has not been mentioned, namely anonymous posting on social media networks by health practitioners who are identifying themselves as such, but are using a pseudonym instead of their real name. Some say it’s important for e.g. whistleblowers to be anonymous, others say health professionals always have to be identifiable. But perhaps it’s a wise decision by AHPRA not to open this can of worms.

Good or bad?

The problem with regulations like this is that it increases liability for health professionals and practices already operating in a highly regulated industry. In the light of recent national eHealth developments and the flood of legal issues that health providers are facing when signing up for the PCEHR, we don’t need more regulation. The risks are: less innovation and progress, a defensive attitude by practitioners, higher legal and insurance costs, increased AHPRA fees and eventually more costs for patients.

That brings me to the risk management paragraph in AHPRA’s draft Code of conduct, which states that it’s good practice “to be aware of the principles of open disclosure and a non-punitive approach to incident management”. I wonder if AHPRA is going to follow this advice when a practitioner breaches a social media clause. Something tells me that we’ll be hit with a punitive approach if we forget to delete Mrs Jones’ friendly Facebook recommendation or if we’re not courteous enough when replying on Twitter.

AHPRA is requesting feedback via guidelinesconsultation@ahpra.gov.au by close of business on 30 May 2013.

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