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Disastrous social media use by doctors

July 21, 2016

Short Attention Span Summary

This is a disturbing article about social media (SM) use by healthcare professionals.  It was a survey study of residency leaders and residents at 14 programs in the US.  Posting of inappropriate content on SM was shockingly common.  This included: identifiable patient information, radiographs, clinical picture or other image, posting of images of intoxicated colleagues, inappropriate photographs, and inappropriate posts.  We all know this, but anything posted online is forever.  This is a serious issue for individuals and institutions.  The worst thing is it could violate a patient’s privacy.  But it could also cost us our jobs.  ED directors, “reported that they were aware of or issued reprimands or terminations at least once a year (30% [faculty/nursing] and 22% residents).”  Be extremely careful what you post on SM!

Interestingly, I would not have found this article apart from SM.  Thanks to @sandandsurf Mike Cadogan from Life in the Fast Lane for tweeting and helping me find this article.  SM has a good side!


West J Emerg Med. 2016 May;17(3):344-9. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2016.2.28451. Epub 2016 May 5.

Survey of Individual and Institutional Risk Associated with the Use of Social Media.

Garg M1, Pearson DA2, Bond MC3, Runyon M2, Pillow MT4, Hopson L5, Cooney RR6, Khadpe J7, Nomura JT8, Inboriboon PC9.

Author information:

1Temple University Hospital, Department of Emergency Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

2Carolinas Medical Center, Department of Emergency Medicine, Charlotte, North Carolina.

3University of Maryland School of Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.

4Baylor College of Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, Houston, Texas.

5University of Michigan, Department of Emergency Medicine, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

6Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, Department of Emergency Medicine, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

7SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Department of Emergency Medicine, Brooklyn, New York.

8Christiana Care Health System, Department of Emergency Medicine, Newark, Delaware.

9University of Missouri-Kansas City, Department of Emergency Medicine, Kansas City, Missouri.




Residents and faculty in emergency medicine (EM) residency programs might be unaware of the professional and legal risks associated with the use of social media (SM). The objective of this study was to identify and characterize the types and reported incidence of unprofessional SM behavior by EM residents, faculty, and nurses and the concomitant personal and institutional risks.


This multi-site study used an 18-question survey tool that was distributed electronically to the leaders of multiple EM residency programs, members of the Council of Emergency Medicine Residency Directors (CORD), and the residents of 14 EM programs during the study period May to June 2013.


We received 1,314 responses: 772 from residents and 542 from faculty. Both groups reported encountering high-risk-to-professionalism events (HRTPE) related to SM use by residents and non-resident providers (NRPs), i.e., faculty members and nurses. Residents reported posting of one of the following by a resident peer or nursing colleague: identifiable patient information (26%); or a radiograph, clinical picture or other image (52%). Residents reported posting of images of intoxicated colleagues (84%), inappropriate photographs (66%), and inappropriate posts (73%). Program directors (PDs) reported posting one of the following by NRPs and residents respectively: identifiable patient information (46% and 45%); a radiograph, clinical picture or other image (63% and 58%). PDs reported that NRPs and residents posted images of intoxicated colleagues (64% and 57%), inappropriate photographs (63% and 57%), or inappropriate posts (76% and 67%). The directors also reported that they were aware of or issued reprimands or terminations at least once a year (30% NRPs and 22% residents). Residents were more likely to post photos of their resident peers or nursing colleagues in an intoxicated state than were NRPs (p=0.0004). NRPs were more likely to post inappropriate content (p=0.04) and identifiable patient information (p=0.0004) than were residents.


EM residents and faculty members cause and encounter HRTPE frequently while using SM; these events present significant risks to the individuals responsible and their associated institution. Awareness of these risks should prompt responsible SM use and consideration of CORD’s Social Media Task Force recommendations.

PMCID: PMC4899068 Free PMC Article

PMID: 27330669 [PubMed – in process]

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