Rhode Island Medical Board Approves Physician Social Media Guidelines

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This week, Rhode Island’s medical licensing board has approved guidelines for the appropriate use of social media by physicians, iHealthBeat reports. The guidelines state that physicians will be held personally and professionally accountable for any material they post on social media platforms (Krapf, ABC6 News, 10/23).

Key goals of the guidelines are to encourage physicians who use social media to protect themselves from the potential risks associated social media and ensure public trust by:

  • Protecting the privacy and confidentiality of their patients
  • Avoiding requests for online medical advice
  • Acting with professionalism
  • Being forthcoming about their employment, credentials and conflicts of interest
  • Being aware that information they post online may be available to anyone, and could be misconstrued

Appropriate Physician-Patient Relationship

The relationship between a physician and patient begins when an individual seeks assistance from a physician for a health-related matter, and the physician agrees to undertake diagnosis and treatment of the patient, according to the guidelines.

Examples where unintended consequences of physicians’ use of social media and social networking may undermine a proper physician-patient relationship and the public trust include:

  • A patient noted disrespectful language on a physician’s blog when the physician expressed frustration towards another patient who had to visit the emergency department multiple times for failing to monitor  her sugar levels. The physician referred to the patient as “lazy” and “ignorant” on their blog.
  • A concerned patient notes that her physician frequently describes “partying” on his Facebook page, which is accompanied by images of himself intoxicated. The patient begins to question whether her physician is sober and prepared to treat her when she has early morning doctor’s appointments.


In a 2010 survey of Executive Directors at state medical boards in the United States, 92 percent indicated that violations of online professionalism were reported in their jurisdiction. These violations included Internet use for inappropriate contact with patients (69 percent), inappropriate prescribing (63 percent), and misrepresentation of credentials or clinical outcomes (60 percent). In response to these violations, 71 percent of boards held formal disciplinary proceedings and 40 percent issued informal warnings. percent), suspension (29 percent), or revocation (21 percent) of licensure.

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Featured image credit: Jason A. Howie via cc