A national survey of state medical board leadership shows high consensus about which online behaviors would prompt investigation into the physician's behavior.
Researchers partnered with the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) to survey the executive director of each of the 70 state medical and osteopathic boards responsible for licensure and discipline of physicians in the United States.
Respondents were presented with 10 hypothetical vignettes of physician online behavior and asked to assess the likelihood of further investigation into a behavior using a four-point scale from "very unlikely" to "very likely."
There was a high consensus among respondents that physicians should never post misleading information about clinical outcomes, use patient images without consent, misrepresent credentials, or inappropriately contact patients. Online behaviors that had a moderate consensus for investigation, or those that were considered a "gray area," included depicting alcohol intoxication, violating patient confidentiality, or using discriminatory speech.
Online behaviors that were not likely to result in investigation included derogatory speech toward patients, showing alcohol use without intoxication, and providing general clinical narratives that did not violate patient privacy. The authors note that many of the online violations would be considered violations offline, too, according to established professional codes.
The researchers suggest that standards for online behavior may need to be established as they have been for offline behavior.