Social media in healthcare: Do’s and don’ts

Facebook in health care

‘Reputation management’ was the topic of an article in the careers-section of this month’s Medical Journal of Australia. As I have blogged about reputation management before I was asked a few questions about the way my practice has used Facebook.

I think Facebook and other social media have the potential to improve communication with our patients and colleagues and make healthcare more transparent – if used wisely of course.

Unfortunately the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has scared the healthcare community with their social media guidelines. Doctors are now being told by medical defence organisations to be even more careful with social media, but I’m not sure I agree with the advice given.

Do’s & don’ts

Here are the do’s and don’ts as mentioned in the MJA article:

  • “Do allow likes and direct messaging on the practice Facebook page, but don’t allow comments. This will avoid any dangers associated with comments classed as testimonials by AHPRA. It also avoids problems such as bullying that may occur when comments are made about other comments.”
  • “Don’t respond to negative remarks online, as it risks falling into the category of unprofessional conduct if brought before the medical board.”
  • “Don’t befriend patients on Facebook if you are a metropolitan practice, Avant’s Sophie Pennington advises, so as to keep some professional distance. She says that in regional and rural areas it can be unrealistic to have this separation.”
  • “Do link your Facebook page to your website, LinkedIn and any other profiles you have set up online. This will help to ensure that these options appear higher on the search-page listings when others look for your name.”
  • “Don’t google yourself!”

Negative vs positive feedback

I think negative comments online are a great opportunity to discuss hot topics (such as bulk billing and doctors shortages) and to engage with the community in a meaningful way. Positive feedback by patients is wonderful and should not be discouraged, as long as it’s not used as a way to advertise health services.

Health practitioners should be supported to communicate safely online. But not allowing Facebook comments is defeating the purpose of social media.

6 thoughts on “Social media in healthcare: Do’s and don’ts

  • It’s an interesting debate Edwin on the risks vs benefits of healthcare using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. While social media use in healthcare has huge potential to bring value to patient-provider relationships, it is not without its ethical and professional challenges.


  • We had an interesting experience last week – one of the local radio stations ran a week of competitions for “Best in Canberra”. One of the days was for the best Medical Practitioner and, lo & behold, my wife and I won. We did not volunteer for this nor asked our permission to be nominated. Sounds great until one realises this was based on FB messages on their page and text messages read out over the air. These were clearly identified patients making comments about us on a large scale – flattering but potentailly hugely problematic down the track. It was also very interesting to note that some of the most flattering comments came from patients that were very frustrating to deal with and reminded me that the line between love and hate is extremely thin – these are the patients who would turn on you them moment things no longer went their way. Reminds me that in Afrikaans we have a saying which directly translated states that the tamest dogs have the worst bite


  • Interested to know why you wouldn’t google yourself, how will that protect your reputation? My advice certainly includes googling prospective employees, so it would be useful for people to be aware. I also use Social media and especially Facebook profile photos as a quick & dirty assessment of whether they get admitted to RDAQ closed site – if you have drunken, half naked photos you will have no chance. Having said that Social media has opened a world of new acquaintances and potentialities for me, and others so it behaves AHPRA and lawyers to be reflective of their advice, equally common sense should prevail in using SoME. (Unfortunately common sense ain’t common)


  • A Facebook structure for Healthcare professionals and a more featured and functional Wisdom Network is inevitable. This issue of internet delivered accountability to community will be a significant issue.

    With such distributed systems, transparency and accountability would be similar to sites such as EBay and Facebook. The crowd would deliver accountability, rather than opaque channels of conventional hierarchies. I guess (I don’t know) that is what the policy is trying to address. A hierarchy trying to control the process of accountability and integrity of the system by keeping things opaque so matters can be dealt with by government departments, not a large distributed community.

    Perhaps, a Facebook or EBay type accountability in health care would be too brutal. On Ebay, if more than 1 in 200 people don’t like your service, I think the account gets deleted … and a quality and quantity sales history is prized. I am not sure if such transparency and accountability would be good or bad for healthcare.

    I’d welcome further comments on this. If I may, I’ll offer a contentious question to inspire some conversation.

    Should a failure that occurs in one practice in one patient during one procedure be on permanent public record indefintely. It is for retail businesses on EBay. Permanent history of customer satisfaction. Should the same degree of accountability be applied to healthcare professionals.


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