The College of Optometrists

Social media

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Sub-sections

Key points

  • Social media is about communicating using internet-based applications such as forums, blogs and social networking sites.
  • You should maintain standards of professional communication even when using social media.
  • Social media can support your work by sharing information in professional networks.
  • There are risks to using informal means of communication and any online postings you make are subject to the laws of copyright and defamation.
  • You should maintain your own, and patient, privacy to protect personal information.
  • You should be aware that anonymity is difficult to maintain when using social media.
  • You should declare any conflicts of interest when posting material online.
  • You should refer to sections on Confidentiality, Partnership with patients, Maintaining boundaries and Working with colleagues.

About social media

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Social media describes internet-based applications which allow individuals to create and exchange content and communicate with others. Examples of social media can include forums, blogs, microblogs (for example Twitter), wikis, podcasts, content communities (for example YouTube and Flickr), and social networking sites (for example Facebook and LinkedIn).165
C103
You should follow the principles and standards of good communication if you are communicating in a professional or personal capacity, irrespective of the medium. See sections on Partnership with patients and Working with colleagues.
C104
You should not share identifiable information about patients in an internet chat forum as this would be an improper disclosure. See section on Confidentiality.

Benefits and risks of using social media

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If you use social media it can support your work as an optometrist and enhance your patient care by:
  1. being involved in clinical, public health or policy forums and networks
  2. participating in professional networks to find out about good practice
  3. contributing to information which patients can access about eye health and services.
C106
You should consider the purpose of your online profile and use appropriate security and preference settings.
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If patients contact you using your private profile for professional purposes you should indicate you are unable to respond privately and redirect them to your professional profile or contacts. See section on Maintaining boundaries.
C108
Communications with colleagues and other professionals may be more informal than with other formal means of communication and this might lead to miscommunication. You should also be aware that by making an online posting you are publishing text and this is subject to the same laws of copyright and defamation as other written or verbal communications, whether you make them in a personal or professional capacity.166 167
C109
Social media sites can often lack context and a posting can be misinterpreted.

References

166 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 [accessed 1 Jly 2013]
167 Defamation Act, 2013 [accessed 1 Jly 2013]

Privacy and confidentiality

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Issues of privacy and confidentiality are important if you use social media since online information can be easily accessed by others. You should be aware of the limitations of privacy online and regularly review privacy settings in your profiles. This is important because:
  1. social media sites cannot guarantee confidentiality, irrespective of your privacy settings
  2. your patients, colleagues and other professional contacts may be able to access your personal information
  3. information about your location may be embedded within photographs and other content, available for others to see, and
  4. once information is published online it can be difficult to remove as other users can distribute it more widely or comment on it.
C111
You must not share patient identifiable information through social media, even if it is on a site for practitioners and is not accessible to the public.

Anonymity

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If you contribute optometric advice or comments to a publicly accessible social media site and identify yourself as an optometrist you should also identify yourself by name. Any material written by an author representing themselves as an optometrist is likely to be taken on trust.
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If you upload content anonymously you should be aware that it can be traced back to its point of origin.

Conflicts of interest

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If you post material online you should be open about any conflict of interest and declare any financial or commercial interests in healthcare organisations, companies or any other interests that may be perceived to influence your opinion.
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