New articles on professionalism and social media

A couple of new articles recently appeared on the topic of medical professionalism and social media.

First, a brief article appeared in the May 2011 issue of Medical Education, which assessed professional behavior and social media use among 51 Year 5 and 52 year 6 students at the National Taiwan University’s College of Medicine. The students were asked to complete a survey on their use of social networking sites, and were assessed on an “18-item scale for medical professionalism.” The results showed that overall, medical students who reported higher-frequency use of Facebook or PTT BBS (a Taiwanese social network) scored lower in the medical professionalism scale. However, students who specifically recognized the professional impact of social networking use (i.e. “who agreed that Facebook helped them to plan their careers and mobilised them to take actions to improve health systems”) scored better on the medical professionalism measures than their colleagues.

Lee KL, Ho MJ. Online social networking versus medical professionalism. Med Educ. 2011 May;45(5): 523.

Secondly, an article titled “Professionalism in the Digital Age,” written by physicians Arash Mostaghimi MD MPA and Bradley Crotty of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, appeared in the “Ideas and Opinions” section of the April 18 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.   While Mostaghimi and Crotty clearly recognize the potential for issues with professional behavior in social media, and while they acknowledge the careless behavior of some colleagues, they are unequivocal that there is a very important baby in this particular bathwater:

We fundamentally believe in preserving the ability of physicians to use online media, social networks, blogs, and video sites for personal and professional reasons. Any effort to block or discourage use of these media would be unenforceable and counterproductive. Physicians should know how information flows online and that the context surrounding personal information or social media may be limited. Medical educators and institutional policymakers should develop curricula and progressive social media policies that enable physicians to engage with their friends, families, and patients in safe and productive ways.

They provide a number of very practical, common-sense approaches to achieving these goals.  One particular recommendation that seems to be claiming attention in press coverage of this article is the authors’ proposal that some physicians may want to consider “dual citizenship” — maintaining separate “personal” and “professional” online profiles.  This may be easier said than done, and even the authors admit there can be no absolute separation between the personal and professional online, but even the recommendation and the exercise involved in making that separation are sure to increase awareness of online information flows and better management of one’s online persona.

Mostaghimi A, Crotty BH. Professionalism in the digital age. Ann Intern Med. 2011 April 19;154(8): 560.

One other interesting note about the Mostaghimi and Crotty article is that the authors have a Posterous blog and Twitter stream where they have been exploring the issues surrounding social media and medical professionalism for several months as “The Medicine & Technology Research Collaborative.” Should be a very interesting project to watch going forward.


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