Having a set of guidelines to follow is important for any corporate or professional presence on social media, but it is absolutely vital in the medical industry, where privacy and professionalism are not just cornerstones of the industry but are legal necessities. Given the open-book nature of social media, how do medical professionals stay on top of the Web 2.0 curve while still maintaining confidentiality and professional doctor-patient boundaries?To help physicians navigate the murky waters of social media, the American Medical Association (AMA) recently released a social media policy for physicians that outlines how they can utilize social media to create a professional presence online. The policy begins by pointing out the benefits of participating in social media – points to remember when weighing the pros and cons of developing an online presence and fostering those online relationships. According to AMA, becoming active in the social media world can:

1) Support physicians’ personal expression
2) Enable individual physicians to have a professional presence online
3) Foster collegiality and camaraderie within the profession
4) Provide opportunity to widely disseminate public health messages and other health communication

In other words, social media provides the opportunity for physicians to network with other industry professionals while developing a reputation as an expert in their field. AMA goes on to note that physicians do not necessarily need to limit their online interactions to just colleagues if they wish to connect with patients via social media as well, but physicians should proceed with caution if they decide to go this route by remaining cognizant of confidentiality issues and appropriate physician-patient boundaries. AMA suggests the easiest and potentially most effective way to do so is to separate professional content from personal content, which can be accomplished by creating private personal accounts that are separate from public professional accounts.

One physician who has successfully utilized social media to position himself as a healthy living expert is Timothy Reynolds, MD, managing partner of HealthCare Express. He has developed his WordPress blog Living Every Minute as a social hub for articles, photos, videos, and even an online storefront for his products. Choosing a blog format over a regular website has allowed Dr. Reynolds to make his site a two-way conversation rather than a one-way broadcast of data. The people who check out his blog can subscribe so they get notifications whenever he publishes new content, and they have the opportunity to interact with Dr. Reynolds by leaving comments for him.

Dr. Reynolds has also utilized Facebook as an added facet of his social media presence by creating both a page and a personal profile dedicated to building his professional presence online. Social media users now have three different ways to connect with Dr. Reynolds, and Dr. Reynolds is able to enjoy the four benefits of having a social media presence as outlined by AMA (discussed above). Most importantly, his content remains within the bounds of professionalism while allowing his followers to get a glimpse of the real, authentic Tim Reynolds, the most important element of a social media presence.

The main point to take away from AMA’s social media policy is to utilize common sense when building your social media presence. Always be professional, remember patient confidentiality, uphold proper physician-patient boundaries, and be online stewards by reporting any inappropriate online behavior that could be detrimental to the medical industry.