GDC Guidance on Social Media
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Published On:13-12-2013 by Eoin Holohan

More and more dentists and members of the dental team are taking to social networks to share articles, opinions and photos, so it comes as no surprise that the GDC has published guidance on what they see as acceptable conduct. In essence the rules have not changed and dental professionals are expected to respect patient confidentiality and act professionally and responsibly. To be fair the guidance is light and was prompted by increased risks due to the very public nature of social media and the potential of content to go “viral”.



Are you sure its anonymous?


The guidelines relate to clinic profiles and personal accounts, even if you do not identify yourself as a dental professional. In fact even if you are using an “anonymous” account it is wise to pay attention as there will many ways people can link the profile to you.


Ensuring anonymity is also important when disclosing patient information which is intended to be anonymous. In fact one of the main issues facing medical boards worldwide who are considering the benefits of sharing patient data with commercial organisations is anonymity. Whilst unlikely to be an issue for dentists sharing on facebook but interesting all the same; gender, age and postcode can be enough to immediately identify someone today.


A doctor in Rhode Island did not do enough to protect the identity of a patient online and was fired. Dr Alexandra Thran disclosed information about a trauma patient online without disclosing the identity of the patient. She did however give enough information to enable others in the community to identify the patient and was subsequently fired from her hospital and reprimanded by the state medical board.


Resist the urge to slate patients


It can be tempting to post about bad patient experiences online but it is wise to think twice before doing so. Bear in mind that posts can be easily shared and you could run into trouble if the individual sees the post or is identified by it. A group of dental nurses ran in to trouble with the GDC when they setup the facebook group “I’m a dental nurse and I hate patients because…”. Luckily for the nurses involved, they were able to remove the group before the mainstream media became aware of it and avoided serious punishment.


Before and after photos


For educational purposes it can be useful to share and discuss patient cases on social networks and this is not prohibited however it is important to ensure that anonymous cases are in fact anonymous. It is best practice to inform patients and get their permission before publishing their cases on social networks.


Interacting with patients


Medical bodies generally warn against interacting with your patients on social networks. This guidance expressly forbids discussing dental care and treatments with patients and warns to consider carefully their friend requests. A few years ago the Medical Defence Union had to issue a warning for doctors to exhibit caution when patients began to contact doctors through social media .




The GDC issued this guidance in response to the increased risks brought about by the very public nature of social networks. The main thing is to take care when disclosing information relating to patients and don’t post anything which may bring shame on the profession. Share what you like but remember that it is in the public domain and can be picked up by anyone, including the GDC, media outlets or even your wife. Use your best judgement and don’t slag people off (too much) and you should be fine.


Click here to see a copy of the guidance.


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