No Likes, Follows, Paid Ratings: Here is what NMC new ethics guidelines spell out to doctors on use of Social Media
New Delhi: Taking a stand against the various social media websites, as well as apps that list and rate doctors and where doctors can get a higher " reach" by paying for "likes" , "followers" and even "ratings", the National Medical Commission (NMC), in its recently issued guidelines have called for a complete stop to these unethical practices.The National Medical Commission (NMC)...
New Delhi: Taking a stand against the various social media websites, as well as apps that list and rate doctors and where doctors can get a higher " reach" by paying for "likes" , "followers" and even "ratings", the National Medical Commission (NMC), in its recently issued guidelines have called for a complete stop to these unethical practices.
The National Medical Commission (NMC) recently released the draft of Registered Medical Practitioner Professional Conduct Regulations, 2022 in the public domain, inviting comments on the same from the various stakeholders. Given the rise of the use of internet media in particular social media, for the first time, the NMC has introduced a section within the ethics guidelines called CONDUCT OF RMPs ON SOCIAL MEDIA
" Doctors should not directly or indirectly indulge in the practice of purchasing "likes", "followers", or paying money so that search algorithms lead to their name being listed at the top or registering on software programs (apps) that charge fees for higher ratings or soliciting patients," the guidelines clearly spell out. The draft guidelines, however, currently do not define what comes under the ambit of social media.
The Rat Race of Likes, Follow and Reviews
The advancement of social media has indeed brought the world inside a phone, and particularly doctors and healthcare within the reach. Searching for a doctor, whether the "nearest doctor" or a doctor of a particular specialization is just a matter of dictating to your phone and search results will do the bidding. Social Media profiles, whether they are facebook pages, youtube channels are used to identify doctors and also to a large extent understand their expertise over their subject of specialization.
This, with its positives has also led to a situation where patients presume that a doctor with more " Likes" or " Followers" would indeed be a "better" doctor with high skill and expertise.
With the arrival of the pandemic when online consultation became the norm, the menace of misleading advertisements, promotions and unethical means of soliciting patients on these sites/ apps directly or indirectly also increased as patients often preferred to consult the doctors with a high level of online reputation and misconstrue them as better specialists.
Therefore, initiating a crackdown on such malpractices by doctors, the apex medical regulator of the country has issued guidelines spelling out the code of conduct by Registered Medical Practitioners on social media. The draft currently, however, does not clearly specify what all falls under the domain of Social Media
What do the guidelines say?
The guidelines do not stop any doctor from having their own websites or social media profiles but specify that the information should be factual and can be verified. The information should not be misleading or deceptive, nor should it exploit the patient's vulnerability or lack of knowledge
The guidelines further mandate that the doctors should not invest in 'likes' and 'followers' on social media or pay money so that search algorithms lead to their names being listed at the top of the search queries; nor they should request or post any pictures of the patients including testimonials, recommendations, endorsements and reviews.
The NMC has urged doctors to keep in mind the distinction between telemedicine consultation and social media and provide only factual and verified information on online platforms to prohibit exploiting the patient's vulnerability or lack of knowledge.
"Broader principle of medical ethics should guide the use of social media by RMPs and all written and visual communication should be truthful, respectful, and professional," the NMC proposed guidelines say while calling for limiting the use of social media in the medical profession and maintaining the decorum of the profession.
Check out the relevant portion of the draft guidelines below
CONDUCT OF RMPs ON SOCIAL MEDIA
1. RMPs can provide information and announcement on social media. However, the information should be factual and can be verified. The information should not be misleading or deceptive, nor should it exploit the patient's vulnerability or lack of knowledge
2. RMPs should avoid discussing the treatment of patients on public social media or prescribing medicine to patients on the public social media platform. If a patient approaches doctors through public social media, the doctor should guide the patient toward a telemedicine consultation or inperson consultation as the situation warrants.
3. RMPs should not post patients' photographs or scan images (ct/pet scans) on social media. Once an image is posted in social media, it becomes data that is owned by the social media company or the general public.
4. RMPs behavior on social media towards his colleagues should be guided by general principles of medical ethics on professional behaviour.
5. RMPs should not directly or indirectly indulge in the practice of purchasing "likes" , "followers" , or paying money so that search algorithms lead to their name being listed at the top or registering on software programs (apps) that charge fees for higher ratings or soliciting patients.
6. RMPs should not request or share patients 'testimonials or recommendations or endorsements or reviews in social media.
7. RMPs should refrain from sharing images of healed/cured patients, or surgery/procedure videos or images displaying impressive results under any circumstances.
8. RMP is allowed to share educative material for the information of the general public. However, communication should be limited to the expertise of the RMP.
9. RMP's webpage should also follow the same guidelines as above.
10. On social media, RMPs should refrain from boundary crossings or violations and conduct themselves with dignity and decorum.
11. Soliciting of patients directly or indirectly through social media is unethical
Apart from these, the regulations have also specified about the duties of RMPs towards their patients, responsibilities of RMPs towards each other, their duties towards the public and allied healthcare professionals. The issue of Professional Misconduct has also been addressed in these regulations. It describes the procedure for a complaint of professional misconduct, manner of inquiry into the complaint, manner of inquiry into the complaint, prohibition of review of the order, power of the SMC/EMRB, delay in decision, etc.
Further, the guidelines for prescribing generic medicine, the template for writing prescriptions, NMC code of medical ethics, guidelines on penalties, levels of disciplinary action as per breach of conduct, guidelines on informed consent in clinical practice, conduct of RMPs on social media, format for medical record, form of certificate recommended for leave or extension or communication of leave and for fitness, continuous professional development guidelines, creation of CPD Committee under EMRB, application for obtaining eligibility for conducting CPD from EMRB, format of certificate for delegates among others.
Meghna A Singhania is the founder and Editor-in-Chief at Medical Dialogues. An Economics graduate from Delhi University and a post graduate from London School of Economics and Political Science, her key research interest lies in health economics, and policy making in health and medical sector in the country.She is a member of the Association of Healthcare Journalists. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact no. 011-43720751