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The golden rules of social media

social media

31 July 2017

Although social media can be a source of great enjoyment and a useful business tool, it's important that dental professionals recognise the risks they pose, too.

Protect patients' privacy and confidentiality

Your duty of confidentiality to patients applies online as well as offline.

Avoid making comments about patients online, and consider whether any updates you post could be viewed negatively if a patient or their family were to see it.

Remember that, although what you post on social media might seem harmless and not identify a patient by name, it is in fact in the public domain and could amount to a breach of confidentiality – for example, if your patient was a friend of a friend and your post identified them in some way, or a patient came across one of your comments.

Negative posts which may undermine public confidence in the profession even if they do not identify a specific patient, could have serious consequences for any dental professional and may be brought to the attention of the GDC.

The GDC advises that 'you must not post any information or comments about patients on social networking or blogging sites. If you use professional social media to discuss anonymised cases for the purposes of discussing best practice, you must be careful that the patient or patients cannot be identified'.

Check your privacy settings

Review your privacy settings on a regular basis to make sure you aren't sharing more information than you intended. Social media sites often make minor changes to the way they operate, which can affect how your profile appears to the public.

Your personal accounts should be kept private, with access limited to friends only.

Think before responding

Patients can take to Twitter or Facebook when they feel they have a reason to complain. It can be difficult to know how to respond to such public criticism.

Although many social media sites have options for users to report offensive posts, asking for such posts to be removed may not be the best idea. Often it can anger the complainant more; they may choose to post their comments elsewhere, or complain that you are 'silencing' them.

You may wish to consider responding politely to the comment, without breaching patient confidentiality, and inviting the poster to contact the practice directly so that you can discuss their concerns further. Often, a response like this will satisfy the patient.

Don't blur the boundaries

If you use social media to promote your practice, it's important to keep your personal and professional accounts separate. Don't blur the boundaries by attempting to use one account for both uses.

Any information you post on your practice profile should comply with the GDC's guidance on advertising.

Remember that it's inappropriate to accept a friend request from a patient or to allow a patient to follow your profile on a personal social media account. If faced with this situation, you may wish to inform a senior colleague and write a polite but firm letter to the patient explaining why you are unable to accept their request and the importance of maintaining professional boundaries.

Beware of inappropriate groups or communities

Social media sites can provide opportunities for like-minded individuals to join groups or communities where they can interact with others about their jobs or interests. Although such groups can be a great way for dental professionals to communicate with each other, it's important to remain cautious and keep communications to a professional standard.

In the past, some dental professionals have found themselves in hot water after joining groups mocking patients or the profession.

Think about how the groups you join or the posts you make will look to those both inside and outside the profession.

Be aware that anything you upload to a social networking site may be distributed further than you intended. It's also a good idea to presume that anything you post online will be there permanently, even if you delete it afterwards.

This guidance was correct at publication on 31/07/2017. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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