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Study: Health Professionals Need to Be Cautious on Social Media

Health Professionals Need to Be Cautious on Social Media

For health professionals on social media, posting just one negative comment in frustration may harm their credibility with current or potential clients, according to a new Canadian study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

In today’s highly-connected world, many professionals use social media as a platform to promote their businesses. But in doing so, the line between one’s personal and professional lives can become blurred, potentially resulting in public mistakes which can harm professional credibility.

In the new study, the researchers investigated Facebook factors that may affect people’s perceptions of professionalism. They discovered that posting just one subtle comment expressing workplace frustration was enough for people to view the poster as a less credible health care professional.

“This study provides the first evidence of the impact health professionals’ personal online disclosures can have on credibility,” said psychology professor Dr. Serge Desmarais at the University of Guelph (U of G) in Ontario, Canada.

“This finding is significant not only because health professionals use social media in their personal lives, but are also encouraged to use it to promote themselves and engage with the public.”

The research involved more than 350 Canadian participants who viewed a mock Facebook profile and rated the profile owner’s credibility and then rated their own willingness to become a client of that profile owner.

The researchers tested factors including the identified gender of the Facebook profile owner, whether they listed their profession as a veterinarian or medical physician and whether their profile included a posting of an ambiguous workday comment or a comment expressing frustration.

The ambiguous comment posted stated: “Started with new electronic patient charts today…interesting experience for sure J.”

The workday frustration comment stated: “What is it with some people?? I know I only went through 9 years of university…but really, I know what I’m talking about…yeesh!!”

The only factor that affected the participants’ perception of the profile owner’s professionalism was the single workday frustration comment. On a scale from 0 to 100, the profile with the negative workday comment was rated 11 points lower (56.7) than the one with the ambiguous workday comment (67.9).

“That’s a meaningful drop,” said Desmarais. “This shows that it takes just one simple comment for people to view you as less professional and to decide they don’t want to become a client of yours. Depending on who sees your posts, you may really hurt your reputation just by being up late one night, feeling frustrated and posting your thoughts online.”

Credibility scores were based on the participants’ ratings of 16 personality adjectives under the categories of competence, caring and trustworthiness. Profile owners with lower credibility ratings were also deemed by participants as less professional.

But even if a health professional refrains from posting this type of negative comment on their promotional page, potential clients can easily find their personal page online, added Desmarais.

“This blurring between private and public may be particularly problematic for people just entering the health profession field who have essentially grown up posting their lives on social media and haven’t yet had the chance to build positive relationships with clients.”

While social media can be an effective way to engage with others, as well as promote and brand yourself, it’s not the best fit for everyone, he said.

“It makes sense for people whose personalities are a large part of their profession to promote themselves through social media, but it may not make as much sense for health professionals and other professionals whose trust and credibility is a large part of their personal capital.”

Source: University of Guelph

Health Professionals Need to Be Cautious on Social Media

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2019). Health Professionals Need to Be Cautious on Social Media. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 23 Jun 2019 (Originally: 23 Jun 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 23 Jun 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.