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2022 RACGP curriculum and syllabus
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The Abuse and violence: working with our patients in general practice provides the best-available current evidence for GPs
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Social media in general practice
Social media refers to online platforms that facilitate the exchange of information through virtual social interactions. According to The Macquarie dictionary, it encompasses "online social networks used to disseminate information through online social interaction." This dynamic medium enablinges individuals to engage with others, access a wealth of information, and collaboratively share knowledge, experiences, and expertise across various topics of interest.
Social media's advantages for general practice arise from broad adoption, affordability, and outreach. With around 80% of Australians on social media and a quarter tracking businesses, it's a seamless channel for practices to connect with patients and peers.
The use of social media by GPs and general practice staff can be regarded as a form of advertising of a health service and is subject to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency’s (AHPRA’s) Guidelines for advertising regulated health services. If anyone leaves a testimonial on your social media profile, it could breach the national law that imposes limits on advertising of health services delivered by registered health practitioners. APRHA requires practitioners to take reasonable steps to remove testimonials that advertise their health services (this may include comments about the practitioners themselves). However, ‘practitioners are not responsible for removing (or trying to have removed) unsolicited testimonials published on a website or in social media over which they do not have control’.5
It is up to your practice to ensure that the settings of your social media websites adhere to AHPRA and MBA guidelines (e.g. disable reviews or comments functions). For all related codes and guidelines, refer to the codes, guidelines and policies outlined by the MBA.
AHPRA and the National Boards have published a self-assessment advertising tool and a testimonial tool to help health practitioners comply with the national law.
The RACGP has also developed a factsheet, ‘Responding to online reviews’, that provides further information about using testimonials.
Health practitioners and health organisations have a legal obligation to keep patient information confidential and protect the privacy of patients’ information. This obligation applies to the use of social media. The MBA’s Good medical practice: A code of conduct for doctors in Australia, section 3.4, states that good medical practice involves ‘Ensuring that your use of social media is consistent with your ethical and legal obligations to protect patient confidentiality and privacy.’3
This means that when using social media, staff must not discuss patients or post pictures of procedures, case studies, patients or sensitive material. Such material posted online may identify patients without their informed consent.
For further guidance refer to the RACGP’s Privacy and managing health information in general practice
If your practice intends to use social media, you must ensure that you have a social media policy in place and that staff comply with the policy and its relevant content. You should consider developing a practice code of conduct for the use of social media that reflects the MBA’s Good medical practice: A code of conduct for doctors in Australia. The RACGP has put together a social media policy template that you can adapt to your practice.
Consider the following when deciding whether to use social media in your practice.
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