Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Physicians often fail to disclose conflicts of interest on social media

Date:
November 12, 2012
Source:
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Summary:
As the use of Twitter and other social media by physicians and patients rises, more and more physicians seem to forget to do what many consider crucial for building doctor-patient trust: disclose potential conflicts of interest. However, physicians are not entirely at fault: prominent medical societies have failed to lay out comprehensive guidelines for physicians on when and how to disclose a conflict of interest when utilizing social media.

As the use of Twitter and other social media by physicians and patients rises, more and more physicians seem to forget to do what many consider crucial for building doctor-patient trust: disclose potential conflicts of interest. However, physicians are not entirely at fault: prominent medical societies have failed to lay out comprehensive guidelines for physicians on when and how to disclose a conflict of interest when utilizing social media.

In a commentary published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Matthew DeCamp, M.D., Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's Division of General Internal Medicine, argues‬ that some physicians use social media to give advice to patients and the public without revealing drug industry ties or other information that may bias their opinions. Without serious efforts to divulge such information -- standard practice when publishing in medical journals and recommended in one-on-one contacts with patients -- DeCamp says consumers are left in the dark.

"As physicians and patients increasingly interact online, the standards of appropriate behavior become really unclear," says DeCamp, who also holds a fellowship at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. "In light of norms of disclosure accepted throughout medicine, it's surprising that major medical guidelines fail to adequately address this issue."

Among the national organizations that have issued social media guidelines are the American Medical Association and the Federation of State Medical Boards.

DeCamp acknowledges that use of social media has the potential to improve patient care and trust by increasing patient access to information, but vigorous online "boundaries" are needed to not only assure privacy and confidentiality, but also to protect patients from misinformation and biased advice.

In an office setting, for example, when doctors prescribe a blood pressure medication, professional guidelines say they are ethically bound to tell patients if they have any financial relationship -- such as receipt of consulting fees -- with the company that manufactures the drug. Guidelines also call for disclosure when they publish studies about blood pressure medication, and medical journals require them to fill out a detailed disclosure form. But online, it's "an unacceptably gray area," DeCamp says.

One reason may be difficulty in determining just how to disclose within the constraints of the online world, DeCamp notes. The popular social media tool Twitter, for example, allows each entry to be just 140 characters long. But a generic disclosure -- "The author has no conflict of interest to report related to this tweet" -- has 70, leaving little room to discuss the research itself.

DeCamp says one solution is the use of electronic tags that disclose conflicts of interest and follow the information tweeted -- and re-tweeted -- by a physician. At the very least, he says, doctors should post potential conflicts in their online profiles, and consumers should be wary of posts and advice from anyone claiming to be a doctor.

One social networking website known as Sermo.com is open to physicians only and is designed to facilitate discussions of treatment options. But DeCamp says the relative anonymity of the site means users don't know about the potential conflicts of peers they encounter there, and whether information is biased because of financial conflicts.

Although the site recommends voluntary disclosure, it is not required or monitored, he says.

Healthtap.com is billed as a free virtual "house call" service linking patients with physicians who quickly provide online answers to patients' questions. Although physicians are identified by name, and the site terms require physicians to disclose, studies suggest physicians sometimes fail to disclose in the online realm. Patients again might be unable to tell whether conflicts have biased the answer.

The absence of stricter guidelines for online doctor-patient interactions is especially puzzling, DeCamp says, given the move to ever-stricter disclosure requirements offline. There has been a movement from simple disclosure to better efforts to manage and eliminate conflicts.

While some professional guidelines do recommend disclosure in social media, DeCamp says, they don't lay out how it should be done, while many ignore the topic altogether.

"The history of conflict of interest in medicine is such that you don't want to be late to the table," DeCamp says. "You need to be proactive so that your undisclosed conflict doesn't end up on the front page of The New York Times. Conflicts need to be disclosed and it's surprising that we have so far to go regarding disclosure and management on social media."

DeCamp's research was supported by a Greenwall Postdoctoral Fellowship in Bioethics and Health Policy.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Johns Hopkins Medicine. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Matthew DeCamp. Physicians, Social Media, and Conflict of Interest. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2012; DOI: 10.1007/s11606-012-2251-x

Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Physicians often fail to disclose conflicts of interest on social media." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121112095936.htm>.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2012, November 12). Physicians often fail to disclose conflicts of interest on social media. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121112095936.htm
Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Physicians often fail to disclose conflicts of interest on social media." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121112095936.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Orthodontist Mom Jennifer Salzer on the Best Time for Braces

Orthodontist Mom Jennifer Salzer on the Best Time for Braces

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Is your child ready? Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.S. Issues Ebola Travel Restrictions, Are Visa Bans Next?

U.S. Issues Ebola Travel Restrictions, Are Visa Bans Next?

Newsy (Oct. 22, 2014) Now that the U.S. is restricting travel from West Africa, some are dropping questions about a travel ban and instead asking about visa bans. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
US to Track Everyone Coming from Ebola Nations

US to Track Everyone Coming from Ebola Nations

AP (Oct. 22, 2014) Stepping up their vigilance against Ebola, federal authorities said Wednesday that everyone traveling into the US from Ebola-stricken nations will be monitored for symptoms for 21 days. (Oct. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctors Help Paralysed Man Walk Again, Patient in Disbelief

Doctors Help Paralysed Man Walk Again, Patient in Disbelief

AFP (Oct. 22, 2014) Polish doctors describe how they helped a paralysed man walk again, with the patient in disbelief at the return of sensation to his legs. Duration: 1:04 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins