Doctors, do you know what’s lurking on your social media pages?

By Kristen Fuller, MD | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published December 14, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Social media is a great way for doctors to stay connected, share ideas, and educate the public on important medical issues.

  • When used inappropriately, even unintentionally, social media can jeopardize patient care and the physician's career.

  • An annual cleanup of social media helps physicians delete any potentially inappropriate content, remind themselves what to—or what not to—post, and increase any necessary privacy settings to help safeguard their personal lives and professional careers.

Social media can be a beneficial way to keep in touch with people. But it can also be a healthy outlet for clinicians to advocate on important issues, especially when it comes to stopping the spread of misinformation that can be harmful to patients and the medical community.

Despite its many potential benefits, social media can damage physicians’ careers and personal lives.

The end of a year is a good time to consider doing a cleanup of one’s social media accounts to help ensure that potentially damaging content is removed.

Time to purge

A systematic review published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research studied the prevalence of health misinformation on social media. Some of the studies in the review recorded finding such misinformation in up to 87% of posts.[]

Physicians have the unique opportunity to educate the public via social media. There is a need for medical professionals with accurate information to counter the deluge of misinformation and disinformation permeating social media.

But they need to be as careful as anyone else about what they share online. So, it may be time to do a review and purge of their social media accounts.

Cleaning up social media

A good rule of thumb for physicians to keep in mind when cleaning up a social media account or posting any new content is to consider if they are comfortable with patients or managers seeing it.

The goal is not to hide all traces of who they are but to take caution and make sure anything they post, re-share, like, or comment on cannot be deemed offensive by anyone. Many people, including future employers and patients, can be offended by posts meant to be humorous.

It’s not unheard of for a job offer to be rescinded or for an individual to be disciplined based on their social media activity.

Here are some tips for doing a social media cleanup:

  • Do a Google search on yourself to see what pops up; then go through each social media account in your control at least 5 years back and delete anything that may be seen as controversial.

  • Change your settings to private.

  • Go through your followers or friends list and delete anyone you do not want to be associated with.

  • Consider making separate personal and professional/public accounts or changing your name or handle to an alias to safeguard your personal information.

Related: The psychiatric dangers of social media

Preventing damage

We’ve heard many news stories about a celebrity’s past social media posts that put them on the hot seat and may even jeopardize their career.

It’s easy to go back many years looking for “dirt” on public figures—including physicians. And although people evolve, past posts can potentially jeopardize a physician’s residency match, a future job, or an academic appointment.

Social media cleanup means going through old posts on social media accounts and deleting anything potentially damaging. This includes inappropriate photos, and posts on politics, religion, or any topic that may be deemed contentious.

It is always important to err on the side of caution regarding social media. Even posts that may be taken the wrong way or offend someone should be deleted, as patients often look up their doctors online.

Healthcare professionals (HCPS) can also untag themselves in any photos of posts that may be deemed inappropriate. Thankfully, social media has privacy options where they can choose who sees their posts. As a rule of thumb, it’s always good to make personal posts private so patients, bosses, and co-workers do not have access to them.

Related: Doctors use social media to boost mental health

Doctors and social media

The American Medical Association (AMA) supports the use of social media within the medical community to educate the public on medical issues and foster relationships among other physicians.[] However, it advises physicians to maintain strict boundaries when posting to protect patients, themselves, and the medical community.

The AMA advises the following regarding physicians and social media:

  • Refrain from posting any patient identifiers on social media to protect the patient's privacy.

  • Physicians should use privacy settings to safeguard their personal information but should keep in mind that these settings are not absolute. Once content is posted, it could live on the internet forever.

  • Physicians should consider separating their personal and professional information online, perhaps maintaining distinct accounts and maybe even using an alias.

  • Physicians—especially medical students and residents—must be aware that any inappropriate content on their social media accounts may have consequences for their careers.

What this means for you

A social media cleanup may seem like a chore that can potentially take many hours, but it can be extremely beneficial to your personal and professional life. Most likely, you have evolved throughout the years, and you may be surprised when reviewing posts from years ago. Posts and photos that may have seemed appropriate at the time may not align with your present beliefs. Set aside time to clean up your social media accounts to protect yourself and your patients.

Read Next: Uncomfortable social media situations doctors should avoid
Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter