A guide to online professionalism for medical practitioners and medical students
A joint initiative of the Australian Medical Association Council of Doctors-in-Training, the New Zealand Medical Association Doctors-in-Training Council, the New Zealand Medical Students’ Association and the Australian Medical Students’ Association.
The professional standards of doctors and medical students – which are based on the expectations of the community and medical peers – form the cornerstone of quality patient care. They are taught and assessed from the first year of medical school, and are continually re-emphasised throughout medical training and practice. The Australian and New Zealand Medical Councils have widely accepted guidelines on good medical practice,1 2 and the Australian and New Zealand Medical Associations (AMA and NZMA) and the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) have developed codes of ethics for their members.3 4 5
The world to which these professional standards apply is expanding rapidly. Society has enthusiastically embraced user-generated content such as blogging, personal websites, and online social networking.6 Research shows that use of social media by the medical profession is common and growing.7 8 In one 2010 study, 220 out of 338 (65 per cent) medical students at the University of Otago, New Zealand, had a Facebook account.9
Although doctors and medical students are increasingly participating in online social media, evidence is emerging from studies, legal cases, and media reports that the use of these media can pose risks for medical professionals. Inappropriate online behaviour can potentially damage personal integrity, doctorpatient and doctor-colleague relationships, and future employment opportunities. Our perceptions and regulations regarding professional behaviour must evolve to encompass these new forms of media.
The Australian Medical Association Council of Doctors-in-Training (AMACDT), the New Zealand Medical Association Doctors-in-Training Council (NZMADITC), the New Zealand Medical Students’ Association (NZMSA), and the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) are committed to upholding the principles of medical professionalism. As such, we have created some practical guidelines to assist doctors and medical students to continue to enjoy the online world, while maintaining professional standards.