Study shows medical professionals write inappropriate tweets

Three percent of the tweets composed by self-identified medical practitioners are unprofessional and may violate privacy laws, a recent study conducted by a professor at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences found.

Types of unprofessional behavior identified in the tweets included profanity, sexually explicit material, discriminatory statements, potential patient privacy violations and possible conflicts of interest.

“I think it [the study] shows the landscape of physicians’ use of Twitter right now, something that was previously unknown,” Dr. Katherine Chretien, an associate professor of medicine at GW and one of the lead authors of the study, said in an e-mail.

The study suggests a growing need for regulation – recommending further guidelines be established to monitor social media sites.

“Accountability for health professionals, in addition to greater education and guidelines, may be needed to maximize potential societal and professional benefit through engagement with social media,” the study reads.

The American Medical Association has issued its own recommendations for social media usage by physicians. In November 2010, the AMA released a new policy that encourages physicians to establish “a positive online presence and preserve the integrity of the patient-physician relationship,” according to a press release from the AMA.

In March 2010, Medical Faculty Associates instituted a social media policy that, among other things, stipulates that when using social media outlets, GW physicians may not state that they are affiliated with MFA.

Chretien said the study also hints to a possible growth in physicians using social media to deliver health information to the public.

“Unlike newspapers, magazines, radio and television, social media allows us [physicians] to have a two-way conversation with those we serve,” Kathryn McGriff, director of marketing for MFA, said.

Dr. Terry Kind, an associate professor of pediatrics, and Justin Azar, a student in the school of medicine, also contributed to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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