Social Media and the Medical Profession

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.


Additional Resources


Submitted by Dr Stephen Barnett (not verified) on

At the recent istrategy conference in Sydney ( MD of LinkedIn described the growth of professional networks, showing how increasingly people are keeping their private lives and professional lives separate online.

This is witnessed in the growth of private medical networks such as Sermo in the US and and now (of which I am medical director)in which doctors can speak about professional matters. has gained 2400 doctor sign-ups in the last 11 weeks- testament to the interest in these private networks amongst doctors.

There have also been some recent studies showing the level of inappropriate content posted on facebook by medical students and junior doctors.... . The important thing to remember is that although only students today, as with diamonds, much online content is forever.

I agree with you. Medical Students are in a state of transition, all the way through postgraduate training. Today an impulsive thought or word is memorialized forever via the internet in chat rooms, facebook, twitter, etc. It is important to emphasize and re-emphasize privacy rules, confidentiality and the Hippocratic Oath in regard to guarding your patients' welfare. Never has it been more true than now as we are well into the digital age. In fact non medical people and allied health personnel have more access to patient information than ever before. In the United States an action has been commenced against a litany of internet web sites (even Google) regarding the use of medical information inappropriately for marketing purposes. You may find the entire pleading on the internet at via my blog for today November 29, 2010 or at this direct link.

Submitted by Ben Harris-Roxas (not verified) on

The guide seems very risk-focused, perhaps understandably. Could there also have been scope to examine how social media can afford opportunities to improve practice? A missed opportunity?

Submitted by Georgiana SM Chin (not verified) on

Social networking websites in relation to health care is not all about risk can be beneficial.

In an article by Greene et al, observations were noted of Facebook being used for health promotion, advice, emotional support and direct feedback between diabetic patients, their families and friends. This is a great observation and good if similar benefits are occurring for other chronic disease patients. Although, it should be recognised that this transfer of unmoderated information may be from a patient's own experience and perceptions about their disease which may or may not have an evidence base.

Similarly, research into medical student and recently graduated doctor's use of social networking sites have highlighted issues related to information that may have a negative impact on how the doctor may be perceived in the future and/or the professional relationship that exists between doctor and patient. But in one of those articles they did note the presence in health promoting activities (e.g. sports) through posts and photos in those recently graduated doctors' profiles. This is reassuring to know the positive image that this can set for our patients. However, there are other ways in which health professionals can show a good example with regards to health promotion to their patients rather than social networking sites that fits more comfortably within a professional context.

That's why guidelines for use of social networking websites and technology, such as this one, are useful to highlight risks (and benefits) to help guide health professionals in their decision making in this area.

Green et al. Online social networking by patients with diabetes: A qualitative evaluation of communication with Facebook. 2010 Oct 13. [Epub ahead of print]

MacDonald J, Sohn S, Ellis P. Privacy, professionalism and Facebook: A dilemma for young doctors. Med Educ. 2010; 44(8): 805-813

Thanks Georgiana,

Yes we believe web based social networking has more advantages than disadvantages as it promotes an interesting variety of learning increasingly labeled 'user driven learning' and when this happens in health care patient related outcomes do improve ( there are papers to support this but i can live with the fact that it may still be hypothetical).

We have an international journal to support activities around 'user driven learning in health care' and welcome quality intellectual contributions that either support the above hypothesis or refute it.

We are also looking for interested researchers who would like to manage entire issues of the journal ( as associate editors with freedom to pen quality editorials) on themes of their choice.

Please feel free to contact me through email



Submitted by Sirous Panahi (not verified) on

I am totally agree with you. It is not all about risks there are many advantages in social networks (SN), particularly in professinal social networks that have more advantages than public social media. One of the main purposes of professional SNs could be experiential knowledge sharing among experts. Currently I am doing a research on this subject at QUT. I am looking for how clinicians share their experiencial knowledge in profesionla SNs. It would be apprecieted if some of you interested in participating in this project.

Submitted by Quentin Steele (not verified) on

I am interested in your research in this area, as we wish to promote experiential knowledge sharing among physicians and other experts at our US healthcare organization. May I contact you for more information?

Medical student's participation in social media is already monitored and select students are being picked out of the crowd and recognized by their professors, medical schools, residency programs, and employers for their exemplary work in using social for the greater good. Empowered doctors are extremely necessary to control the amount of misinformation that is already on the world wide web. I would sincerely enjoy spreading awareness on the benefits and opportunities for medical professionals via social media.

I agree that the medical profession does need training and guidelines before jumping in headfirst. The online market can be a bit of a jungle and it is best to know exactly what you are getting into, your messaging and your position before engaging with others online.

Submitted by Di Plunkett (not verified) on

I have read through this and think there is some great information in there for professionals and students to follow in regards to social media. I work at a University and we have been trying to instil some of this into our Allied Health students. I am wondering if someone can contact me in regards to the possibility of us adapting this for our students.

Completely agreed that certain inappropriate online behaviors may damage the sanctity of such a sacred duty. But when all the world is rapidly changing and adjusting itself to the tunes of social media then how is it possible for the medical practitioners to be remain unaffected from this. Certainly we can't keep them away from social media. The only choice is to make them aware about their responsibility from the very beginning. Or the AMA may constitute a guideline for this.

Submitted by FionaR (not verified) on

the dialogue in the video's drowned out by the music - could you upload the video again with different sound balance, please? I think that this is a really important topic, and would love to be able to listen to the video.