Social Media Guidelines and Best Practices

Recommendations From the Council of Residency Directors Social Media Task Force

Malford T. Pillow, MD, Med; Laura Hopson, MD; Michael Bond, MD; Daniel Cabrera, MD; Leigh Patterson, MD; David Pearson, MD; Harsh Sule, MD, MPP; Felix Ankel, MD; Madonna Fernández-Frackelton, MD; Ronald V. Hall, MD; Jason A. Kegg, MD; Donald Norris; Katrin Takenaka

Disclosures

Western J Emerg Med. 2014;15(1):26-30. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

Social media has become a staple of everyday life among over one billion people worldwide. A social networking presence has become a hallmark of vibrant and transparent communications. It has quickly become the preferred method of communication and information sharing. It offers the ability for various entities, especially residency programs, to create an attractive internet presence and "brand" the program. Social media, while having significant potential for communication and knowledge transfer, carries with it legal, ethical, personal, and professional risks. Implementation of a social networking presence must be deliberate, transparent, and optimize potential benefits while minimizing risks. This is especially true with residency programs. The power of social media as a communication, education, and recruiting tool is undeniable. Yet the pitfalls of misuse can be disastrous, including violations in patient confidentiality, violations of privacy, and recruiting misconduct. These guidelines were developed to provide emergency medicine residency programs leadership with guidance and best practices in the appropriate use and regulation of social media, but are applicable to all residency programs that wish to establish a social media presence.

Introduction

The term "social media" encompasses a wide variety of Internet-based resources to share content among users. This term includes social networking sites, video- or picture-sharing sites, forums, blogs, and other tools. Information is predominantly user generated and can be shared openly or with select groups. Social media has become a staple of everyday life among over one billion people worldwide.[1–3]

A social networking presence has become a "hallmark of vibrant and transparent communications."[4] In emergency medicine (EM), "…use of social media among emergency physicians is unusually strong… emergency physicians have embraced the healthcare side of social media in a way not seen among other specialists."[5] In addition to the various EM blogs and sites covering daily practice issues, there has even been a call for integrating social media into emergency-preparedness efforts.[6] Social media has now become a preferred method of communication and information sharing. It offers the ability for various entities, especially residency programs, to create an attractive Internet presence and "brand" the program.[7]

Social media, while having significant potential for communication and knowledge transfer, carries with it legal, ethical, personal, and professional risks.[8–14] The negative side of social media is highlighted in multiple publications, which illustrate problems including disclosure of private information and lapses in professionalism.[15–20] Due to the unique climate of social media, even simple actions like "friending" (a function of social media platform Facebook®, whereby one user can request to be a "friend") can be misinterpreted as violations of professional or personal boundaries. Despite the dangers, social media offer tremendous benefits for recruiting, communication, and education.[21–24] Implementation of a social networking presence must be deliberate, transparent, and optimize potential benefits while minimizing risks.

These guidelines are designed to provide guidance to EM residency programs not only for the development and use of a program-specific social media presence, but also for the education of residents in potentially problematic use of social media that may impact professional functions in their private life. They are designed to complement and do not supersede any institutional guidelines or local, state or federal laws. The social media guidelines outlined in this paper constitute an expert consensus opinion for best practices and are approved by the Council of Emergency Medicine Residency Directors (CORD) Board of Directors as of November 2012.

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