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Defining Online Physician Conduct

This week a reporter cornered me on the issue of professional behavior in the social space. How is it defined? I didn’t have an answer. But it’s something that I think about.

Perhaps there isn’t much to think about. As a “representative” of my hospital and a physician to the children in my community, how I behave in public isn’t any different than a decade ago. Social media is just another public space. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we’re in public. When I’m wrapped up in a Twitter thread it’s easy to forget that the world is watching. But the solution is simple: Always remember that the world is watching.

On Twitter I think and behave as I do in public: Very much myself but considerate of those around me. I always think about how I might be perceived.

Here’s a better question, online or off: What is professional behavior? I have a pediatrician friend who, along with the rest of his staff, wears polo shirts and khaki shorts in the summer. The kids love it.  One of my buttoned-down colleagues suggested that this type of dress is “unprofessional.” Or take a handful of physicians and ask them to review a year of my blog posts and my Twitter feed. I can assure you that some will identify elements that they find “unprofessional.” I believe I keep things above board.

This is all so subjective.

The reporter was also interested in how I separate my professional and personal identities in the online space. I’m not sure the two can be properly divided. The line is increasingly smudged. I try to keep Facebook as something of a personal space. I think it was Charlene Li who suggested that she only “friends” people she knows well enough to have over for dinner. That’s evolving as my rule as well. But independent of how I define “well enough,” Facebook is still a public space. My comments and photos can be copied to just about anywhere.

Social media has not forced the need for new standards of physician conduct. We just need to be smarter than we were before. Everyone’s watching.

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*


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