To the Editor:
We read with interest the article “Sounding Off on Social Media: The Ethics of Patient Storytelling in the Modern Era.”1 The authors address a timely issue—health professionals’ increasing use of social media—and present three scenarios involving the sharing of patient stories on social media to examine the considerable ethical issues that arise from this modern form of digital storytelling. Like the authors, we too have been concerned about this issue, particularly since > 90% of medical students appear to use social media.2 We recently developed a national survey with the Association of American Medical Colleges to explore how students were engaging with social media, including their beliefs about handling ethically challenging situations that can arise with Facebook use.3 In contrast to our initial concerns, we found that students expressed pragmatism about Facebook use and were mindful of the ethical perils and professional responsibilities on social media. Our data showed that students were sensitive to sharing personal health information, and they expressed intent to proactively address situations where their peers might share such compromising information online. While adding patients to their online networks was largely perceived as problematic, students suggested strategies to safely integrate social media tools like Facebook into future practice. Overall, students seemed acutely aware of the potential pitfalls of using social media in their work.
We agree with the authors that curricula for training health professionals must evolve to keep pace with changing technologies. However, we would add that it is important not just to focus on the misuse of social media (e.g., sharing patient stories online) but also to guide students in exploring how such technology might be used to augment their work as health professionals. Even while we inoculate students against lapses of professionalism, we must help unleash their creative minds in exploring how these powerful “social” tools can serve individual and public health.
Daniel R. George, PhD, MSc
Assistant professor, Department of Humanities, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania; [email protected]
Michael J. Green, MD, MS
Professor, Departments of Humanities and Medicine, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania.
1. Wells DM, Lehavot K, Isaac ML. Sounding off on social media: The ethics of patient storytelling in the modern era. Acad Med. 2015;90:10151019.
2. Bosslet G, Torke A, Hickman S, Terry CL, Helft PR. The patient–doctor relationship and online social networks: Results of a national survey. J Gen Intern Med. 2011;26:11681174.
3. George DR, Navarro A, Stazyk K, Clark M, Green MG. Ethical quandaries and Facebook use: How do medical students think they (and their peers) should (and would) act? Am J Bioethics Res. 2014;5:6879.