An Ohio plastic surgeon was stripped of her medical license this July after botching patient surgeries.
The doctor was formerly viral on TikTok and had used the platform to post videos of surgeries. She was criticized for caring about her social platform more than her patients.
To protect patient privacy and avoid patient backlash, doctors may need to take extensive consent processes before using social media—or stick to posting educational, non-patient content.
This July, a once-viral TikTok doctor was stripped of her medical license after being sued for botched surgeries. The doctor, Katherine Grawe, was an Ohio-based plastic surgeon who frequently streamed procedures on TikTok under her handle @doctorroxy. The account is no longer active.
At a recent hearing with the Ohio Medical Board, Grawe was cited as reckless in prioritizing her social media presence over her responsibility to patients. She was also fined $4,500 for failing to meet the standard of care.
The situation sheds light on how social media is impacting the medical world and how it is essential for doctors to uphold professionalism both in the office and on apps.
Martin Gasparian, Esq, a California-based personal injury lawyer and owner of Maison Law, says that social media can be attractive for doctors, especially if they are trying to teach patients about how to best care for their health.
A “responsibility of the medical field is to educate, and this is easily done on TikTok’s platform,” says Gasparian. “After all, you are the expert and authority and can nip misinformation and rumors in the bud with your grasp of complex medical news and discoveries.”
However, he adds that with this comes the responsibility to ensure factual accuracy, patient privacy, and professionalism.
“Don’t get swept away trying to get eyes by touting trends, as this will negatively affect your reputation as a professional and may lead users to do something ill-advised or dangerous,” says Gasparian. “Even if you think engaging in the newest challenge will put a fun, entertaining spin on your practice, above all you must maintain professionalism and promote safety.”
Discussing or filming patients on social media also brings privacy laws into question, like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Gasparian says.
“The doctor-patient relationship is completely confidential under HIPAA law,” he explains. “Doctors that violate this law are completely at fault, and can damage their reputation, lose their position, and face litigation.”
While it can be helpful to ask patients to sign a consent for social media videos, this may not be enough to save a doctor from a lawsuit, should one arise. It won’t be enough to save a patient from any social commentary or backlash that follows a social media post, either.
“Some patients may not fully realize the implications of having their own surgery filmed and posted online,” says Gasparian. “This is irrevocable, and depending on the patient's age can impact their future schooling, career options, and their digital footprint.”
Even for those with a smaller following than Grawe, online content can be copied or reposted to an account with a larger audience. It can also be altered in ways the patient and/or doctor may not be comfortable with.
“Once content is posted, both doctor and patient must realize it takes on a life of its own over which the original creators have no control,” says Gasparian. “Though there may be an intended audience for the content, it can nevertheless reach the eyes and devices of anyone at any time once it is uploaded. While doctors may intend the content to be educational, often it becomes a source of entertainment to viewers outside the original scope.”
If you are passionate about showing your process and patients online, it is essential for them to undertake a lengthy process to ensure everything runs smoothly in the patient-doctor understanding of the situation.
This includes gathering things like extensive and detailed consent from the patient, which may include but is not limited to steps such as:
Extensively explaining to the patient how you intend to use your content on social media.
Allowing them to ask questions.
Thoroughly explaining the risks involved, including unlikely scenarios.
Gathering second and third opinions.
Outlining how the content will be portrayed and potentially interpreted and various possibilities for how it could be used or copied for unintended reasons outside the doctor and patient’s control.
Alternatively, avoid posting patient content on TikTok and stick to an educational format. In these cases, he advises to “let the facts speak for themselves and spread truth in an easy to understand and relatable voice–this will increase trust among your followers and grow your online presence.”
What this means for you
If you're considering social media to promote your work, you must carefully consider patient privacy and consent. Make sure to follow your employer's guidelines when making online content, and if you don’t feel confident about a post, don’t post it.