Social Media Guidelines for Medical Students and Physicians

September 15, 2016

By: Jennifer L. Keating, J.D., MSIII
University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine
Former Advocacy Coordinator, AMSA Professionalism & Ethics

In all situations, including on social media sites, members of the medical profession should always represent him/herself in a manner that reflects values of professionalism, accountability, integrity, honor, acceptance of diversity, and commitment to ethical behavior.

For purposes of these guidelines, “social media” includes Internet and mobile­based applications that are built on user­generated shared content. Social networks ­ including, but not limited to, blogging, microblogging (e.g., Twitter), networking sites (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn), podcasts and video sites (e.g., Flickr, YouTube) – offer opportunities for communication, information/experience sharing, collaborative learning, professional interactions and outreach.


Guidelines for social networking

  • Be professional. As medical students and physicians, we should represent our profession well. Adhere to rules of ethical and professional conduct at all times. 
  • Be responsible. Carefully consider content and exercise good judgment as anything you post can have immediate and/or long-term consequences and carry the potential for significant public impact and viral spread of content. Therefore, all statements must be true and not misleading. Make sure that you differentiate opinions from facts.
  • Maintain separation. Avoid interacting with current or past patients through social media, and avoid requests to give medical advice through social media. (e.g. replying to a post on social media asking to be diagnosed)
  • Be transparent/use disclaimers. Disclose yourself and provide an appropriate disclaimer that distinguishes your views from those of the clinic, hospital system and/or University with which you are associated (while at the same time, being careful not to violate any social media policy to which you may be subject by such organizations). Without specific direction from the appropriate personnel, you may not present yourself as an official representative or spokesperson for said organizations. Also, be sure to reveal any conflicts of interest and be honest about your credentials as a medical student or physician (resident or otherwise).
  • Be respectful. Do not use defamatory, vulgar, libelous and potentially inflammatory language and do not display language or photographs that imply disrespect for any individual or group because of age, race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, marital status, genetic information, military status, or any other protected characterization or group.
  • Follow copyright laws. Comply with copyright laws. Make sure you have the right to use material before publishing.
  • Protect client/patient information. Do not discuss confidential information and follow standards of patient privacy and confidentiality and regulations outlined in Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA, 20 U.S.C. § 1232g). Remember you could personally face a HIPAA violation if there are enough details in the post for patients to recognize themselves.
  • Avoid political endorsements. Political endorsements of candidates should be avoided outside your own personal social media accounts, even there comments should be carefully considered. Endorsements of any candidates or political parties via AMSA social media channels is strictly prohibited, be aware of where and how AMSA’s name is used.

  • Comply with all legal restrictions and obligations. Remember use of social networking sites or weblogs can carry legal and professional ramifications. Comments made in an unprofessional manner can be used in legal, professional, or other disciplinary proceedings (i.e., hearings before a State Medical Licensing Board).
  • Be aware of risks to privacy and security. Read the site’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Be cognizant of continuous changes in these sites and closely monitor the privacy settings of the social network accounts to optimize your privacy and security.