Physician Misconduct Made Public on Internet

Physician Misconduct Made Public on InternetA new survey suggests more doctors are committing professional violations online that could be severe enough to jeopardize their careers, HealthDay reports.

In a survey of 68 medical boards from across the U.S., researchers looked to find examples of unprofessional physician behaviors online, and what repercussions have stemmed from those actions. The results, which were published on March 21 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest both doctors and patients need to be more knowledgeable of medical misconduct that goes on in the online space.

"Just about everyone now has heard of someone they know who's done something online that they wish they hadn't done. I think the message is that medical professionals are responsible for what they put online – not only responsible for the information, but accountable," said lead letter author Dr. Ryan Greysen, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco.

Greysen added that of the 71 percent of medical boards that responded, 92 percent admitted one online violation of professionalism had been reported. The most common violations that have been reported include inappropriate patient communication, which 69 percent said has occurred, use of the internet for inappropriate practice, such as prescribing medicines without ever meeting someone, at 63 percent, and doctors misrepresenting their credentials, which 60 percent stated has occurred.

The respondents also gave insight into how they have handled online misconduct. About 71 percent stated the violations led to disciplinary action, including formal hearings. Another 40 percent issued informal warnings, and 25 percent stated that at least once, no action was taken. In total, 56 percent of the medical boards surveyed said physician misconduct on the internet resulted in serious repercussions, including the restriction, suspension or revocation of the doctor's license.

"I think the big picture about where we're going with social media is getting through to medical students and deans of med schools, and medical boards. We're trying to sketch out the harms of this technology," Greysen said, adding that the Hippocratic Oath, which medical students take upon graduating, begins with "First, do no harm."

According to the National Cancer Institute, the advent of the internet has led to an explosion of healthcare websites that may provide unfounded information. The institute provides a resource with several questions and facts to ensure proper healthcare is given.