Professional Ethics and Social Media-Medicine and Religion
Last week we posted the first in our two part series on Project Zero’s Carrie James’ experience at SMU’s “Conference of the Professions.” After John Browning spoke about ethics and the law, Dr. Dan McCoy, a dermatologist, spoke about ethical dilemmas and challenges surfacing in medicine related to the internet.
He began by explaining how the internet allows patients to research their ailments and creates communities around shared experiences with medical conditions. While these forums can be positive places for patients to relate, provide advice, and share stories, they can also be a source of misinformation for many. Dr. McCoy further detailed that there is concern across the field because it is difficult to police these spaces.
He also cited the tensions in online doctor-patient relationships, as they lack the trust and authenticity which are often products of face to face interactions. A solid relationship between doctor and patient is key to good medicine. While “telemedicine” should not necessarily cease to exist, the interactions online should be handled with care.
At the closing of his talk, Dr. McCoy cited a case in his life where a young nurse posted a photo of medical nature online that was deemed inappropriate and was consequently fired. She was later reinstated as the picture was not identified or tagged. Cases like these raise the questions of doctor patient confidentiality and the caution medical professionals need to take in their online and social media activity.
After hearing Dr. McCoy speak, several conference participants offered their experiences with ethical uses of the internet in medicine. One participant wondered if it is ethical to find information out about a patient online in order to better treat them (such as a picture of a patient smoking). Another participant in the conference noted that psychiatric residents are more commonly “googling” patients in order to gather more information about their histories, which in turn changes the nature of their clinical encounter and how they may treat the patient. Should this practice be banned? Is it helpful or harmful in deciding on a course of treatment?
After Dr. McCoy finished speaking, the last member of the panel, Pastor Dusty Craig, shared his thoughts on the place of the internet in religion. He feels that social media allows people to get to know their spiritual leader in a different environment. These media also provide forums for members of religious communities to share their perspectives on their faith and, in so doing, helps push against the notion that the leader is the only person who can speak about the meaning of the faith He pointed out that the mission of the church is to spread the word and get the message to the “un-churched, de-churched, and anti-church population,” and social media is an ideal means to do this. Pastor Craig ended by acknowledging that with all the benefits of the internet, policies are still necessary to regulate use within the church. His church, for instance, has rules on what staff can post online, especially as they “friend” and reach out virtually to many people in order to get them interested in the church.
Offering these diverse perspectives about the internet in their places of work, this panel revealed many common challenges facing the professions when it comes to internet usage and social media. Many questions come to mind in thinking about these issues: What privacy issues do we face in light of the internet? How is the relationship between doctor/patient, lawyer/client, and pastor/ practioner altered due to online activity? How can social media be ethically managed? How are professions adapting professional codes, or creating new ones, to address new issues raised in new media environments?