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In your face

Danger lurks on social networking sites for unwary physios as Matthew Limb finds out.

Social networking can be good for careers as well as fun, but it isn’t always harmless, as more health professionals are finding out. Seven doctors and nurses in Swindon were suspended last year after photographs on the Facebook site showed them taking part in a so-called lying down prank in accident and emergency, while last month the Health Professions Council found two surgical assistants guilty of misconduct for filming ‘offensive’ clips on their mobile phones which appeared on the video-sharing website YouTube. Staff can also get into trouble outside the workplace. With media such as blogs, social and personal websites, chat forums, texts and tweets, there is no such thing as a private life. CSP information management and technology group chair Margaret Hastings says many physios gained computer skills through social networking sites whose use is encouraged by universities as part of their studies. ‘Professionalism must be maintained at all times and physiotherapists must be very aware of not sharing identifiable information,’ she warns. That includes not using social networking to engage in relationships with patients, breach patient confidentiality, defame colleagues or employers, purvey lies or spread materials and opinions that could be deemed offensive.

Disciplinary cases

The HPC’s standards of conduct, performance and ethics say registrants must respect confidentiality, communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners, and behave with honesty and integrity. Employers can take action against staff who use social websites to damage the organisation or its clients or to breach confidentiality, and some are now screening social websites to check on information posted by or about potential job candidates. Jim Fahie, a South East Coast region steward, is aware of three disciplinary cases prompted by use of Facebook. He backed a motion at this year’s Annual Representative Conference for the CSP to provide advice to members when using social networking sites. ‘Physios have got a professional code of conduct that doesn’t stop when you walk out of the door of the workplace, it is 24-7,’ he says, adding it’s largely a matter of common sense, such as not putting comments or photos on to a website after a drunken night out. The ARC motion was defeated by delegates but carried on interactiveCSP, the Society’s member networking website. However, Rob Ledger, the CSP’s head of online communications, is keen not to overdo the warnings but instead highlight the advantages of professional/clinical online networking. `You’ve got a responsibility as a member to be professional in all that you do, whether it’s on Facebook or iCSP, but that shouldn’t limit you in using the tools for your benefit.’

Physiotweets

Physiotherapist Chris Pettit created a Facebook page to share information including research articles and video footage of treatments with colleagues across the world. Physiofacebook now has 6,700 members and there is a companion presence on Twitter called Physiotweets. ‘I use it as a media for treatment methods,’ Chris Petit says. ‘It shouldn’t be used for anything directly regarding a patient.’ He has set up the web page in a way that gives him some editorial control over content. He doesn’t regard formal CSP advice on the do’s and don’ts of social networking as necessary. ‘Any qualified physiotherapist should be able to analyse what’s safe and what’s not. Patient confidentiality is key to our trust as a profession.’ The CSP is addressing the issue in its Charting the Future project and there will be a new code of professional values and behaviour. One of the core statements will relate to members’ broader responsibilities for their own and the profession’s standing in activities outside their physiotherapy practice. fl

Further information

Health Professionals Council standards of conduct, performance and ethics

Playing it safe

  • Don’t use sites to discuss work-related issues
  • Don’t use sites to enter into any personal relationships with patients
  • Don’t respond to requests from patients to befriend you. Simply tick the ‘decline’ option giving no reason
  • Don’t use sites to post any words or pictures that may be seen by society at large as unprofessional
  • Do set your privacy settings to ensure that only known and invited real-life friends can access your sites,
  • and do not allow strangers access to any of your information this can protect you from unwanted advances from patients

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