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Careless talk online can cost your career – Leo Briggs


  Posted by: The Probe      3rd August 2018

THE action by the GDC to suspend a dentist who had posted inappropriate messages on a closed professional forum is a stark reminder of the need to exercise caution on all social media, including professional forums.

The comments were made in a private message thread of a professional forum and the dentist argued that he would not have made such comments publicly. However the GDC noted the comments were made on a forum that had many thousands of members.

The GDC stated: “Dental professionals occupy a position of privilege and trust in society and must make sure that their conduct at all times justifies both their patients’ and the public’s trust in the profession.”1

The case highlights the need to uphold professional standards of conduct in your professional and personal life, including when using social media. The GDC has been clear that “professional responsibilities such as patient confidentiality and professional courtesy are still fundamental” and has produced specific guidance on using social media.2 In other words, you can be held accountable for your online conduct in the same way as you might for your actions and omissions in the dental surgery.

That’s not to deny that professional discussion forums can be extremely useful for sharing insights and seeking advice, without revealing confidential information. They also provide an opportunity for exchanges of views about issues of concern to the profession. But at the same time, they can confer an illusion of anonymity which leads users to write things that they would not dream of saying to a colleague, patient or even a friend over a coffee.

It’s important to be aware that a private forum may be accessible to employers, the GDC and members of the public. Equally, a fellow dental professional might report a post.

The DDU’s advice below is aimed at helping you to steer clear of trouble on professional forums:

• Avoid making comments about patients and protect patients’ confidentiality. If you do discuss anonymised cases be aware that several posts taken together may include enough information to identify someone.

• Review your privacy settings on a regular basis to make sure you aren’t sharing more information than you intended. Minor changes by the site can affect how your profile appears to the public.

• Avoid accepting friend requests from patients or allowing patients to follow your profile on a personal social media account.

• Don’t be tempted to let off steam about colleagues or patients. Avoid posting anything on social media that you would not be prepared to say to the person face-to-face.

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

• Recognise that anything you upload on social media may be distributed further than you intended and that anything you post online could be there permanently, even if you delete it afterwards.

• Consider whether posts could be viewed negatively by others, especially if taken out of context.

• Reflect on whether you should respond to someone else’s provocative post. n

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