Transparency advocates would like to see consumers use the Internet to find information about doctors and hospitals, but some medical students who publicize their private lives through social networking Web sites might be grateful that their potential patients are not Googling them yet.
Medical students are posting sensitive information and images that can be accessed by anyone and which suggest unprofessional behavior, according to a study conducted by the University of Florida. The university found nearly half, or 44.5%, of its 813 medical students and residents maintain profiles on the popular social networking site Facebook, and about two-thirds of them kept their profiles open to the public. A random selection in the study of 10 students with Facebook profiles showed they were posting less-than-stellar materialincluding displaying photos that showed excessive drinking or belonging to online groups with names such as PIMP: Party of Important Male Physicians, and Physicians looking for trophy wives in training.
Most of that is information doctors would prefer not to share with their patients, but medical students might not understand what theyre posting is viewable to anyone and typically archived on the Web, says Lindsay Thompson, assistant professor of general pediatrics at the universitys College of Medicine who led the survey research. Everything is public domain.
Even more alarming is the apparent lack of awareness among students about what is considered professional and what isnt. Few medical students are prepared in professionalism and ethics, Thompson says in her report. The Joint Commission recently announced that bad behavior is a serious hindrance to patient safety and wants hospitals to crack down on unprofessional personnel through a revised code-of-conduct standard effective Jan. 1, 2009.
Thompson says that the university will use the study results to conduct workshops in professionalism and follow up with the Facebook users to see if behaviors change. The university already formally spoke to the students about their conduct.
In the meantime, hospitals cant legally keep tabs on what their med students might be posting to personal Web sites, but Thompson suggests students might still want to think about what light their profiles shed on them. Youve got to assume when youre using Facebook, youre still on the job.
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