Doctors and social media: is there an ethical responsibility to separate person and public identities online?


The current industry standards call for doctors to separate their personal and professional identities online, which many doctors find difficult, if not impossible. This separation between personal and professional online identity was first recommended by the American Medical Association in 2010. In April 2013, the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards followed suit, recommending that doctors proceed with caution when blogging and posting personal information on social media sites, stating such activity could “blur professional and personal boundaries,” and impact the reputation of the profession.

Advocates against these industry standards expressed their frustration in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Doctors Matthew DeCamp, Thomas W. Koenig, and Margaret S. Chisolm, argue that it is “operationally impossible” to separate one’s personal and profession identity online. Additionally, they argue, allowing patients to have insight into doctors’ personal lives can establish rapport, build trust, and increase empathy.

Although professionalism is a valid concern of the medical profession, in a world of increasing technology, it is not only impossible to separate one’s personal and professional identities online, but it also obstructs the doctor’s ability to connect with her patients on a personal level. This personal touch in the technological age may be the key to setting apart doctors whom patients truly trust and are willing to engage with from those doctors whose professionalism might be mistaken as aloofness.