Are Med-Student Tweets Breaching Patient Privacy?

Are Med-Student Tweets Breaching Patient Privacy?
Are Med-Student Tweets Breaching Patient Privacy?,8599,1925430,00.html 

By Alice Park
Sept. 23, 2009

Personal profiles on Facebook and other social-networking sites are a 
trove of inappropriate and embarrassing photographs and discomfiting 
breaches of confidentiality. You might expect that from your friends and 
even some colleagues - but what about your doctor?

A new survey of medical-school deans finds that unprofessional conduct 
on blogs and social-networking sites is common among medical students. 
Although med students fully understand patient-confidentiality laws and 
are indoctrinated in the high ethical standards to which their 
white-coated profession is held, many of them still use Facebook, 
YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and other sites to depict and discuss lewd 
behavior and sexual misconduct, make discriminatory statements and 
discuss patient cases in violation of confidentiality laws, according to 
the survey, which was published this week in the Journal of the American 
Medical Association. Of the 80 medical-school deans questioned, 60% 
reported incidents involving unprofessional postings and 13% admitted to 
incidents that violated patient privacy. Some offenses led to expulsion 
from school.

"I didn't expect to find so many incidents of unprofessional conduct," 
says Dr. Katherine Chretien, medicine-clerkship director at the 
Washington, D.C., Veterans Administration hospital and the lead author 
of the study. As a physician responsible for counseling medical students 
and residents, Chretien says she assumed that students were "educated 
about professional conduct online and used better judgment."

But medical students, it seems, are no different from the rest of us 
when it comes to posting drunken party pictures online or tweeting about 
their daily comings, goings and musings - however inappropriate they may 
be. Many students feel they are entitled to post what they wish on their 
personal profiles, maintaining that the information is in fact personal 
and not subject to the same policies and guidelines that govern their 
professional behavior on campus. Though medical students would agree 
that physicians - and other professionals, like teachers - should be 
held to a higher standard of integrity by society, the new study 
suggests that they're confused by how rules apply, especially in 
cyberspace, once the white coat comes off. "They view their Facebook 
pages as their Internet persona," says Dr. Neil Parker, senior associate 
dean for student affairs for graduate medical education at UCLA's David 
Geffen School of Medicine. "They think it's something only for their 
friends, even though it's not private."


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