“Physicians on Twitter” was the subject of a research letter in the Feb. 9 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, documenting some instances of unethical and unprofessional content online by doctors.
Up to 3 percent of tweets posted on Twitter in the study were found to be unprofessional — they included profanity, potential patient privacy violations, sexually explicit material, or discriminatory statements.
Researcher Katherine Chretien, M.D., F.A.C.P., associate professor of medicine at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, called for greater accountability and guidelines for physicians who are regular users of Twitter.
“This research helped us to identify how physicians are using social media and has helped us gauge whether or not there is need for greater accountability for physicians who use social media,” said Chretien.
“While the majority of tweets were potentially helpful, the ethical breaches and unprofessional content raised a red flag.”
The study, approved by the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center, was initiated to describe the characteristics of self-identified physicians on Twitter and how they use Twitter, with a specific focus on professionalism.
The researchers examined 5,156 tweets from 260 self-identified physicians with 500 or more followers between May 1 and May 31, 2010.
They found that three percent of the tweets were categorized as “unprofessional,” meaning that they included profanity, potential patient privacy violations, sexually explicit material, or discriminatory statements.
In addition, one percent of the tweets were marked “other unprofessional,” which included unsupported claims about a product they were selling on their Web site or repeated promotions of specific health products.
Ten of these statements about medical therapies countered existing medical knowledge or guidelines, potentially leading to patient harm.
Source: George Washington University