The GMC is currently consulting on the guidelines, which highlight the standards of online behaviour expected of GMC-registered doctors. The draft guidance warns medics to interact online only in a professional capacity and not to discuss patient care.
It reads: 'The standards expected of doctors do not change because they are communicating through social media... However, social media does raise new circumstances to which the established principles apply.'
The move comes after the British Medical Association issued its own guidance and after an array of embarrassing online embarrassments dating back several years. In 2008, staff at Northampton General hospital were banned from using Facebook after a nurse posted a picture of herself topless in uniform.
Angie Wiles, joint CEO of Virgo Health, welcomed the new guidance, but said: 'I would go so far as to say it is negligent in some ways to not publish guidance for so long. The GMC is not responsible for everything its members do but it is responsible for setting standards of behaviour. It’s a shame it has taken so long, given its members are some of the most important people in society.'
Monica Gounaropoulos, associate director of Tonic Life, said that social media was still very much an 'undiscovered void' within healthcare. 'Facebook was launched eight years ago and Twitter six, so it’s by no means new. We should have seen social media guidance much earlier. The industry and many professionals are still finding their way.'
Ayesha Bharmal, head of healthcare practice, Fishburn Hedges, added: 'Their guidance shouldn’t be about poorly judged online behaviour. It should cover instances where something posted online could have a material impact on a person’s ability to do their job.’
Stephanie McNamara, GMC’s head of media, denied claim of negligence, adding: ‘The fact it is online doesn’t change the established principles of what we would expect. There has been GMC guidance for a number of years on conduct in a number of publications such as Good Medical Practice, which sets this out very clearly, and we keep our guidance under regular review.
‘Social media is a fantastic opportunity for patients and doctors to talk directly. It doesn’t raise any new ethical issues that doctors were left unsure of.’
To read the draft guidance click here.