Be wary of tweeting physicians, warns a new study, which says that many are behaving unprofessionally.
A report from the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences says there's a need for stronger guidelines in the profession on the use of social media sites. Some physicians, it says, are regularly broadcasting private patent information, racist opinions and dodgy claims about medical products.
"While the majority of tweets were potentially helpful, the ethical breaches and unprofessional content raised a red flag," says associate professor Dr Katherine Chretien.
Her team examined 5,156 tweets from 260 self-identified physicians with 500 or more followers during May last year. They found that three percent of the tweets were categorized as 'unprofessional'.
This behavior included potential patient privacy violations, as well as profanity, sexually explicit material or discriminatory statements.
A further one percent of the tweets were labeled 'other unprofessional', and included unsupported claims about a product they were selling on their website or repeated promotions of specific health products.
Ten of these statements about medical therapies, says Chretien, ran counter to accepted medical knowledge or guidelines, potentially leading to patient harm.
"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," says Chretien.