As a Boulder, Colorado attorney who works closely with professionals in the medical and dental fields, I’m acutely aware of the importance of the public images of my clients. Although many would argue that the true measure of professionalism is the work product that one produces—a physician’s ability as a diagnostician and care provider or an oral surgeon’s surgical skills, for instance—many potential clients will judge you by the way that you comport yourself.
Prior to the 21st Century, it was much easier for a medical professional to keep the details of his or her personal and family life out of the office. However, social networking and other online forums have created a situation where the private details of one’s life may become public information. Colorado physicians, physician’s assistants, dentists and other healthcare providers can take many steps to manage their online reputations. The follow should not be considered legal advice and are only offered for your consideration as possible issues.
Managing Your Online Reputation
Maintaining Separate Business and Personal Social Networking Profiles – Social networking sites can be a great way to promote your business, but if you establish one with a professional goal in mind, you may want to post only things that are related to your field or practice. If you decide to establish two profiles, you could make sure that the details of your personal one are not visible from your professional account. You should also check your account frequently to make sure that you maintain control of public messages and images posted by others.
Social Network Security Settings – You may want to restrict who has access to your personal social networking profile. This may seem obvious, but Facebook and Twitter are constantly changing their security settings. You may believe that only your friends can see what you’ve posted, but it may also be visible to their friends as well or even to everyone who searches your name. Furthermore, there is no security setting that will stop people from reposting what you’ve written and crediting you.
Think Twice Before Discussing Work on a Social Networking Site – Even the most innocuous comment about a patient or a medical procedure can be damaging. In the healthcare profession, an indiscreet comment or photo could violate HIPAA laws. Even a comment like, “I had a difficult patient today,” could be misconstrued by _any_ of the patients that you may have seen recently. Always consider how something might sound to others, or in court, before posting it. Err on the side of caution and leave work out of your postings.
Control Your Personal Message – It is not uncommon for people to post about the trials and tribulations of life, but as a healthcare professional it is important for your clients to feel confident that you are focused on their needs. Negative comments about your day, your stress level or your state of mind will make your patients wonder if you are capable of doing your job. Conversely, no one wants to read that his or her surgeon would rather be golfing or skiing.
Blogging Dangers – Whether you like to comment on articles on the Denver Post website, write reviews for Yelp, or enjoy debating politics on a more national online forum, you should create a moniker to protect your identity. Blog comments are often very opinionated, and once they are posted they permanently become part of the World Wide Web. You may want to make sure that your moniker or associated email address does not divulge your identity.
Use Google Alerts to Monitor Your Name – “Google Alerts” allows you to enter search terms for monitoring. If you input all of the permutations of your name and practice, you can receive an email alert any time that they appear on the Internet. For this to be effective, it is important that you cover all combinations of your name: full name, common misspellings of your name, initials, with professional title, without title, et cetera. If someone is discussing you or your practice on the Internet, it’s in your best interest to know about it. You can also enter your names into various search engines to see what is already out there. You may be surprised by what you find.
Remember, once anything has made it to the Internet, it’s extremely difficult to remove it, even when it is clearly erroneous. Before you write anything anything that is associated with your identity, consider whether or not you would want a patient or colleague to see or if you would want to be cross examined by an attorney about it in court. If you discover that something about you has been written but is not true, you may want to contact a Colorado attorney to discuss the tort of libel.
The information above is not intended as legal advice and does not form an attorney client relationship. If you have specific legal questions or issues you should speak with a licensed Colorado attorney.