Will Patients be harmed because GMC Guidance on Social Media use by Doctors makes them more vulnerable to Fraud?

Max Pemberton GMC rules threaten Doctors free speech

I think it’s obvious there are some glaringly obvious flaws in the new GMC Guidance for Doctor’s use of Social Media but I’m wondering why so many Doctors are opposing it because of the negative impact it may have on their lives rather than the harm it could have on the lives of Patients they care for.

In this excellent Telegraph piece Max Pemberton (a Doctor writing under an alias) explains that “This is not about patient confidentiality” but I think it should be obvious to anyone that as we increasingly use digital Patient records this guidance requiring Doctors to be more identifiable online than anyone else will make them much more vulnerable to a wide variety of scams and fraudsters.

Let’s be very clear: It is absolutely about Patient confidentiality if my Doctor is made more vulnerable to fraud because of advice that the GMC requires all Doctors to follow.

An online social life that is discoverable makes Doctors more vulnerable to fraud because scammers can increasingly:

> Track a Doctors location

Please Rob Me

> Track social interests, events and conversations that Doctors are having (making it easier for them to start up online dialogue, get a link clicked, etc)

Going Phishing for Doctors

> Identify and then scam their Patients eg. this is one of the reasons why we have been advised not to use the 3GDoctor twitter account to “follow” any other accounts.

3GDoctor Twitter Account

Related: Take a lesson from a Patient on social media

3 thoughts on “Will Patients be harmed because GMC Guidance on Social Media use by Doctors makes them more vulnerable to Fraud?

  1. Hmmm I don’t really understand your points. Doctors, like other citizens, should learn to de digitally literate. That means not sharing location data if you don’t want to.

    And why does identifying oneself by name imply that one would identify and scam patients? Surely these are separate professional issues and I would like to know more about why you think they are connected.

    1. Hi amcunningham,

      Thank you for making this interesting point. As you can imagine to answer it with any detail would help people who might be wanting to scam Doctors so I won’t be doing that, however:

      MOST people are sharing location data when they probably don’t know they are because:

      a) They’ve inadvertently clicked something they didn’t mean to.
      b) They have very little IT training/experience (because of the additional responsibilities that Doctors have I think it would be much more constructive to have every UK Doctor Health IT certificated rather than expending any energy trying to police social media accounts).
      c) Location can be inferred by other tech eg. the mapped location of WiFi hotspots
      d) It’s default in the settings/network of the digital camera/mobile phones we all use
      e) The social networking sites we are using are managed by people who haven’t got the first clue about privacy issues as they relate to Patients (eg. Facebook shared location data unknowingly with advertisers for a long time), may have profitable activities in this area that are illegal or would at least be frowned upon if anyone knew the details (eg. Google advertising by companies that sell meds over the internet), or think it’s reasonable to change their T&Cs on a whim (its hard to find an innovative web company that doesn’t do this).

      Increasingly social networking tools are used for both social AND business uses eg. I can see UK Doctors on Twitter who have Patients that follow them, I can see UK Doctors who follow their Patients, I can see UK Doctors and Patients who follow one another, etc. It’s easy to see how Doctor-Patient issues could arise from this additional means of communication eg. Patients thinking they told their Doctor something because he reads their blog/twitter stream, public communications causing personal information to be revealed to or guessed by others (my boss is suddenly off today and has now started following this local specialist on Twitter means they have XYZ condition), etc, etc.

      This isn’t such a big problem for other industry verticals because they’ve either already encountered it (there’s plenty of media coverage of Banking scams and the public is now aware not to click on links in emails etc) or they aren’t dealing with sensitive info in the first place (eg. entertainment) but very few UK Doctors today actually use email with their Patients and it’s actually still rare for Patients to have online access to their medical records (even though we all know most Patients would like it) and this situation makes them very vulnerable to very basic phishing techniques as their expectations are all over the place eg. when you’ve never had digital communication with your Doctor a SMS or email that arrives thanking you for your recent visit to XYZ Clinic can be very welcoming.

      Scammers unfortunately know where this goes next eg. would you like to sponsor your Doctor to run a Marathon?, Can you complete the Clinic’s new Friends & Family Survey and get a chance to win an iPad!, etc, etc.

      In my opinion today these are much more significant concerns than the potential for Patients to be following the advice of anonymous people who claim to be Doctors online.

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