SOCIAL MEDIA – Knowing the Boundaries
Lynn Weekes, chief executive officer of the Australian based NPS MedicineWise (National Prescribing Service MedicineWise), in addressing delegates at the 2nd National Pharmacy Conference in October 2016, said online platforms and social media are powerful tools available to pharmacists in terms of apps that provide up-to-date information, data gathering and the sharing of information.
However, the use of social media by pharmacists should come with a warning label, ‘USE RESPONSIBLY’. In this regard, Council, through the Practice Committee and the various disciplinary committees, has expressed the potential need to look at how pharmacists and pharmacy support personnel use social media. This includes not only the use of social media for information sharing but also the manner in which people conduct themselves on social media platforms.
The issue of a healthcare professional’s use of social media was thrust into the limelight during the professional misconduct hearing brought against Professor Tim Noakes by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). Noakes was accused of giving unconventional medical advice via Twitter in 2014 after he advised a breastfeeding mother to wean her baby onto a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. He was found not guilty in April 2017.
Noakes commented that, to the best of his knowledge, the HPCSA had no rules pertaining to a healthcare provider’s use of social media. The HPCSA argued that providing medical/healthcare advice via social media amounted to unprofessional conduct.
A pharmacist has professional and ethical duties when taking care of a patient; these include confidentiality and professional behaviour, among others. Council is looking into the use of social media and asking the question, do pharmacists and pharmacy support personnel, as healthcare professionals, know their boundaries and responsibilities when using social media as part of their professional lives?