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Maintaining professionalism online: the risks of social media

Post date: 29/07/2019 | Time to read article: 2 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 08/08/2019

Dentists and dental care professionals need to ensure they have a professional social media image and handle any online communications appropriately. Philip Johnstone, dentolegal consultant at Dental Protection, discusses how to avoid the risks associated with an online presence.



‘You must ensure that your conduct, both at work and in your personal life, justifies patients’ trust in you and the public’s trust in the dental profession.’1

This standard will be familiar to dental professionals; however it should be remembered that it is as important online as offline. In particular, social media can pose many risks and without careful consideration dental registrants can find themselves in difficult situations.  

Your practice’s online presence

Many dental practices have a presence on social media. It can be a useful marketing tool, especially if your patients leave positive reviews. However, what should you do if a patient posts negative feedback about your practice?

We often receive calls on the Dental Protection advice line from members wanting to know how to best deal with this situation. Firstly, the same standard of professionalism and confidentiality applies regardless of the medium of communication. It is useful to have an agreed practice policy regarding how to deal with any adverse feedback and comments left on your website, and to allocate this task to one individual who is appropriately trained. You may wish to:

  • invite the commenter to discuss the matter offline
  • reply to all feedback individually 
  • thank the commenter for their comments
  • demonstrate any changes that result from feedback where appropriate
  • request that the provider of the website removes any factually inaccurate comments. 

Always remember patient confidentiality when dealing with these situations and do not respond publicly to a patient. You should never disclose any information about patients on social media unless you have their explicit consent, and you should never post fake reviews. However, you may wish to encourage satisfied patients to post reviews, as genuine, positive feedback will balance any negative reviews you may receive. 

Your personal online presence

Social media has blurred the boundaries between public and private life and you should be aware that your personal online presence could be viewed by your patients and colleagues. You should therefore ensure that you do not behave online in a way that could damage public confidence in either you as a dental professional or the wider profession, including posting information, personal views, photographs and videos.
 
You may wish to review your social media privacy settings and ensure you have full control on public posts about you or your practice. For example, could a friend upload a photograph of you that implies you have been drinking alcohol, even if you have not? Perhaps you are surrounded by empty bottles, or perhaps the caption reads ‘Boozy night’. Consider how this could be viewed by a patient due to receive major treatment from you the next day. If the patient was dissatisfied with the result of their treatment, could this photograph be used as evidence against you?

A study completed in 2016 analysed the Facebook accounts of students at University Dental School Dublin.2 The study found that there was a concerning level of unprofessional content on student’s Facebook profiles. Dental students, just like dental professionals, need to be aware of their responsibility to the Dental Standards at all times. It is also important to remember that a student fitness to practice case would need to be declared when applying to register with the GDC.

Further guidance

The GDC provides guidance on using social media
• Dental Protection’s press office can support members with media handling.
• This advice and other ethical and legal issues around advertising and online presence are discussed on a recorded webinar, available for members on Prism

References 

1. General Dental Council, Standards (2013). 9.1.
2. Nason K., Byrne H., Nason , J., O’Connell, B., An assessment of professionalism on student’s Facebook profiles Eur J of Dent Educ 22 (2018) 30-33.

 

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