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The NYU Social Media Educational Program

Studies indicate that social networking profiles of medical students and physicians can be located through Internet search engines such as Google. Moreover, many of these individuals have privacy settings disabled meaning that anyone can view their profiles, which often contain photographs of alcohol, overt sexuality, foul language, and patient privacy violations. Recent surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center demonstrated that 44% of U.S. adults who used the Internet in 2010 searched specifically for doctors or other health professionals. Altogether, this means that patients are theoretically capable of accessing the unprofessional content of medical students and physicians on social networking sites. This is information that historically has remained private and when made public has been shown to carry serious consequences for the individual, his or her institution, and the medical profession.

Over the last 2 years, the theoretical risks associated with the scenario above have been realized in Facebook-related incidents at hospitals across the country, causing residents to be dismissed and medical students suspended from their respective programs. In response to these incidents, I spent the past year and a half studying the literature on the role of social networking among physicians. Over this period, I authored a manuscript entitled, “Social Networking Services: Implications for the Next Generation of Physicians” published in the July 2011 issue of Surgery, and created a social media educational program with the goal of preventing a social media-related incident from occurring at the NYU Langone Medical Center (NYULMC).

Working with my mentors, Drs. Pierre Saadeh and Stephen Warren, I integrated suggestions by NYULMC’s Graduate Medical Education Committee and House Staff Council, to create an engaging, evidence-based social media educational program consistent with the NYULMC Social Media Policy and HIPAA guidelines. The program, comprised of a PowerPoint presentation delivered at resident orientation and a supplementary section included in the Resident’s Handbook, focused on raising awareness of the risks that medical students and physicians face while using social media and the simple steps necessary to secure their online profiles. From this project, I learned that the combination of a rising number of physicians on social networking sites and an increasingly internet-savvy public has produced a new kind of risk with the potential to jeopardize medical careers. Based on the comments following my presentation, I am confident that the program achieved its goals and motivated members of the audience to protect themselves against the liability associated with social networking as medical professionals. Moving forward, Dr. Saadeh, Dr. Warren, and I plan to transform the presentation into an online tutorial so it may reach a wider audience at NYULMC and other institutions.

Andrew L. Weinstein, Class of 2013

Updated on May 2, 2012.