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

doctor onlineYour 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.

Like It or Not, Your Social Media Posts Can Hurt Your Divorce Case

FB - DivorceSocial media use has exploded over the past decade. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are currently the most popular sites for sharing the latest news, gossip and photos, and new social media websites are launching almost daily. Social media users share the most intimate details of their lives in countless status updates, including where they were, what they did, what they ate, who accompanied them and what they saw and heard. Strangers can learn a great deal of personal information about a Facebook or Twitter user simply by visiting his or her page.

So can divorce lawyers and soon-to-be-ex-spouses.

What You Post Can and Will Be Used Against You

According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, more than 80 percent of divorce attorneys surveyed reported an exponential increase in the amount of evidence collected from social networking sites in the past few years. It’s not hard to understand why. Proof of infidelity, pictures or posts that seem to contradict claims as to assets or wealth, statements that may call into question a person’s fitness as a parent – everything that you say or that someone else may say about you online can and will be used against you.

NBC News surveyed numerous divorce and family law attorneys a few years back who shared some examples of ill-advised social media use that played a big role in the outcome of the proceedings, including:

  • Husband goes on Match.com and declares his single, childless status while seeking primary custody of said nonexistent children.
  • Husband denies anger management issues but posts on Facebook in his “write something about yourself” section: “If you have the balls to get in my face, I’ll kick your ass into submission.”
  • Father seeks custody of the kids, claiming (among other things) that his ex-wife never attends the events of their young ones. Subpoenaed evidence from the gaming site World of Warcraft tracks her there with her boyfriend at the precise time she was supposed to be out with the children. Mom loves Facebook’s Farmville, too, at all the wrong times.
  • Mom denies in court that she smokes marijuana but posts partying, pot-smoking photos of herself on Facebook.

In a recent Illinois case (In re Marriage of Miller), the court terminated maintenance payments to an ex-spouse after finding that she was cohabitating with someone else.  The court based its conclusion in large part on Facebook posts in which the ex-spouse and her new boyfriend clearly held themselves out as a couple and in which it was made clear that they were living together.

There is No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy on Facebook

If you think that your privacy settings will save you, think again. A number of courts have ruled that social media postings are not private, even when users adjust their privacy settings to shield their page from public view. Facebook and Twitter’s privacy policies warn users that the purpose of the sites is to share information, and that the public can view the posts on the sites.

Additionally, there have been cases where courts have ordered litigants to turn over social media passwords so that opposing counsel or prosecutors could gain access to the information, posts, and photos found there.

Deleting Won’t Help

Deleting potentially damaging posts while your divorce litigation is pending can also do more harm than good and get you in trouble with the court for spoliation of evidence. Last year, the New York State Bar Association as well as the Philadelphia Bar Association issued advisory opinions in which they stated that attorneys can advise clients to adjust their privacy settings and remove or delete content from their pages so long as the information is preserved such that it can be produced in litigation if requested.

Post Like EVERYBODY is Watching

Obviously, the best course of action for someone who is contemplating divorce or who is currently going through one is to avoid posting on social media altogether. For many people, however, this is simply unrealistic. When I advise clients about social media use during their divorce, I am reminded of the saying “dance like nobody’s watching.” When it comes to your online life, post like EVERYBODY – your spouse, their attorney, your kids, the judge – is watching.

If you have questions or concerns regarding any issues relating to divorce, please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for a free initial consultation.