Sep 12, 2012

Doctors in Australia Will Please Maintain Silence on Social Media.

The Americans never got it right in healthcare anyways. The Canadians have a beautified version of the same. The Europeans have their hearts in the right place and are still working on theirs. Now its Australia's turn.

Healthcare social media is definitely the elephant in the room and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has geared up to fulfill its mandate of “maintaining public safety at its heart”. They recently released their preliminary consultation paper on social media policy for healthcare practitioners:
A draft of the social media policy has been released as a preliminary consultation paper to targeted stakeholders for initial feedback, ahead of a wider public release....The policy reflects the National Boards’ role as regulatory bodies with respect to social media and does not provide more general professional advice.
The preliminary consultation process aims to ‘road test’ the initial draft to weigh operational impact, issues or initial concerns. As expected, Australian doctors have been forced into fighting for their rights! True to its name ‘practitioner regulation agency’, AHPRA has come out with its set of recommended ‘must-nots’ and penalties. This particular draft  is so ‘advertising’ centric, AHPRA misses out on their wider role to “develop or approve standards, codes and guidelines for the health profession”. Advertising in Social Media is only the tip of the iceberg.

As @edwinkruys hints in the comments here, some of the policy statements are plain dumb. While questioning the very need for the document's existence in the present format, some very relevant positions have been outlined on this Crikey health blog. The scope and expectations of the community this document hopes to regulate will hopefully be taken into serious consideration, even it means reversing some old policies.

In its zeal to regulate what they call advertising, the current draft borders on violating right to speech and the freedom of expression. The wordpress blogger Carolyndv says it eloquently “What use are we as healthcare workers if we cannot engage with our community about their health and wellbeing?”. If "Disclosing personal information on social media to current or former patients may breach professional boundaries", they are effectively trying to silence doctors on social media. As a regulating body for developing/approving standards and guidelines, what APHRA also needs to do is define protected health information and state the patient parameters/details which should not be revealed in Social media. It is these sort of definitive guidelines the document lacks while gleefully throttling health information rights of the consumer.

The AHPRA is taking in suggestions till 14th September after which they will hopefully come out with a more rounded and practical draft of social media regulatory guidelines for physicians. Later, the National Boards in the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (National Scheme) will release a consultation paper on social media policy in October/November 2012.


  1. Since health equity depends so much on bringing the "rich" and the "poor" together in Australia (we are the 5th most socio-economically divided country worldwide), the ability for healthcare professionals to connect with patients and the community via SOCIAL MEDIA will help close the equity gap. Doctors: please be part of this revolution (you use phones now, don't you?) and contribute to lowering health & trust barriers to a better life.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Kay Walker.
    Yes, healthcare social media really is democratization of healthcare, in a way. It allows for uniform access to health information, which is an important part of fundamental health rights of the people.