Social media has enormous potential in health care; however, it also poses possible legal, ethical, and professional issues. The purpose of this study was to survey students enrolled in professional physical therapy programs regarding their use of social media, the types of materials they and others posted, their judgments about behaviors of others using social media, and their rating of privacy concerns given different clinical scenarios.
Students enrolled in three physical therapist education programs were invited to participate in an electronic survey. Survey questions addressed the students' personal use of social media sites, posting habits, ratings of behaviors in regards to others' posts to social media sites, and ratings of social media privacy concerns related to a variety of scenarios.
The survey was completed by 215 students. Over half of the students did not know if their academic program had a social media policy (even though all programs do), and even if aware of the policy, most had not read it. The most commonly posted pictures were of students or others holding an alcoholic beverage or while at parties. The least commonly posted pictures were of students or others during sexual activity, when smoking, or when with a patient. Most respondents (97%) were not aware of classmates posting pictures that would violate patient confidentiality; however, 29% were aware of classmates posting pictures that reflected unprofessional behavior. Accepting friend requests from classmates was acceptable to 98% of the respondents; however, 84% thought friending current patients, looking up patients, or communicating with patients was not acceptable. For the most part, respondents felt there was a definite concern anytime a patient's picture, medical history, behavior, or confidential information was posted. A small number of respondents were aware of classmates ridiculing a faculty member or a classmate.
Discussion and Conclusion.
The results showed a disparity of opinions regarding acceptable and unacceptable social media behavior. Because unprofessional social media behavior can have negative consequences for students, physical therapy programs should develop social media policies and find opportunities to educate students as to the importance and ramifications of those policies. Students should be reminded that their perceptions of appropriate and inappropriate social media content may differ from those of faculty members, potential employers, or clinical site administrators. Students should be diligent in using appropriate privacy settings and they should remove inappropriate postings from their personal sites. Other research studies suggest that social media professionalism should be introduced early and threaded throughout the physical therapy curriculum and that the best way to teach social media professionalism appears to be through group discussions using case scenarios. This study provides case scenarios and ethical situations that may help faculty with those discussion sessions.