WebMDon’t: Physicians Need to Avoid These Online Professionalism Mistakes

Your medical practice is thriving, and you have earned the trust and respect of thousands of patients. Except for one. This former patient was very unhappy with the care you provided. So dissatisfied was this patient that he decided to put up a scathing one-star review of you and your practice on Yelp! and other websites; a review rife with insults and factually incorrect statements. You cannot abide by this unjustified stain on your reputation, so you respond to the patient’s review on the very same sites. You share some of your own choice words about the patient, and you also correct the record about the care you provided. But in doing so, you also revealed confidential medical information about the patient, who promptly informs the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) about your breach of confidentiality. Instead of letting the patient’s rant go unanswered, you now have to answer a complaint from the IDFPR that threatens your license and your practice.

The foregoing, based on an actual case, is just one example of the traps doctors can fall into with their use of the internet and social media. Over the past decade, breaches of online professionalism standards have been the subject of increasing scrutiny and disciplinary action by state medical boards.

A national survey of state medical boards revealed that the most common online activities that led to disciplinary proceedings against physicians were:

  • inappropriate patient communication online, including sexual misconduct
  • use of the internet for inappropriate practice, such as internet prescribing without an established clinical relationship
  • online misrepresentation of credentials
  • online violations of patient confidentiality
  • failure to reveal conflicts of interest online
  • online derogatory patient remarks
  • online depiction of intoxication

Most boards indicated that incidents had been reported to them by patients or their families, although reporting by other physicians was common as well.

While the Illinois Medical Practice does not list any online conduct as one of the 43 specified bases for physician discipline, it doesn’t need to. As the authors of the above-referenced study put it, the problems that doctors get into with the internet and social media are just “online manifestations of serious and common violations offline, including substance abuse, sexual misconduct, and abuse of prescription privileges.”

In 2013, the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards issued guidelines on online medical professionalism. It addresses many aspects of social media and internet use by physicians, but the single best recommendation may be this:

Pause before posting. Trust yourself, but pause before posting to reflect on how best to protect and respect patients, their privacy, and your professional relationships and responsibilities. It is helpful to think of the use of social media as a public speaking arrangement in which everything is recorded and shared.

Louis R. Fine: Chicago Physician License Defense Attorney

Throughout my career, I have been protecting the livelihoods and professional futures of physicians and other health care providers before the IDFPR, combining insight and experience with zealous and strategic advocacy.

The moment you are contacted by IDFPR or learn that you are under investigation is the moment that you should contact me. I will immediately begin communicating with IDFPR prosecutors and work with you to develop the strategy best suited to achieving the goal of an efficient, cost-effective outcome that avoids any adverse action. Together, we will protect your Illinois physician’s license and get you back to your patients and your career.

Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.

More Fairness + More Complexity = New Illinois Child Support Law

Following the massive overhaul of Illinois divorce and family law that became effective last year, additional changes have been made that will alter how child support obligations are calculated in the state. If you pay or receive child support, you may be able to modify the established amounts after the law becomes effective on July 1, 2017.

Hard Percentages Replaced By “Income Shared” Approach

Currently, the calculation of child support in Illinois is based on a pretty simple formula. A hard percentage of the non-custodial parent’s net income is used to determine the amount that he or she has to pay, with that percentage going up for each additional child who needs support.

But when parents divide parenting time more or less equally, and a child spends significant time staying with the “non-custodial” parent, putting all of the support obligations on that parent, or not taking into account the income of the other parent, doesn’t make much sense.

Many other states recognized this reality and changed their child support laws as part of the same alterations Illinois adopted last year, when terms like “custody” and “visitation” were replaced with “allocation of parenting time” and “allocation of parental responsibilities.”

Now, child support will be “allocated” between the parents just as time and responsibilities are. Specifically, the old percentage formula has been replaced by what is called an “income shared” approach under which each parent is designated a portion of child support obligations depending on how much they financially contributed to the overall household income when the marriage was still intact. It also takes into consideration the amount of time the child spends with each parent pursuant to the agreed-upon or court-ordered parenting plan that is now part of every Illinois divorce involving children.

How the New Child Support Law Works

Starting July 1, child support will be calculated by:

  • calculating each parent’s net income, then
  • combining net incomes to determine Total Family Income, then
  • using a chart contained in the new law to determine the Basic Child Support Obligation, then
  • allocating the Basic Child Support Obligation proportionally based on net incomes.

But there’s more. If each parent exercises 146 or more overnights per year with the child, called “shared parenting, the Basic Child Support Obligation is then multiplied by 1.5 to calculate the shared care child support obligation. Then, using the percentage of time the child spends with the other parent, child support is calculated from one parent to the other. Then, the two amounts are netted out.

Seem confusing? It is. While the new law may result in more equitable child support arrangements, it also will also result in more complexity in determining what those arrangements will be. A seasoned Illinois child support lawyer can help you navigate these changes to the law and advise you of your rights and options.

Louis R. Fine – Chicago Child Support Attorney

If you have questions about child support and how the changes to Illinois may affect you and your children, please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for a consultation. When we meet, we can go through all of your questions, and I will be there to listen to you as well as advise you. Together, we will turn the page so you can begin the next chapter of your life with clarity and confidence.