Concise Advice

A Health Practitioner’s Guide to social media

Maintain professional standards when using social media. Even if you don’t use your title, people can make connections. Remember, you are always a doctor no matter what you post privately, and this can impact your reputation and relationships regardless of the platform, purpose or intended audience.

If you like or share a post or article, you are also deemed to be a publisher. This may have risks associated with it depending on the content and whether it complies with the TGA, ACCC and privacy laws.

Ahpra’s social media guidelines include:

While you may hold personal beliefs about the efficacy or safety of some public health initiatives, you must make sure that any comments you make on social media are consistent with the codes, standards and guidelines of your profession and do not contradict or counter public health campaigns or messaging. A registered health practitioner who makes comments, endorses, or shares information which contradicts the best available scientific evidence may give legitimacy to false health-related information and breach their professional responsibilities. Practitioners need to take care when commenting, sharing, or ‘liking’ such content if not supported by best available scientific evidence.

In some inquests and complaints investigations, WhatsApp messages between colleagues have formed part of the patient’s clinical records.

Firstly, review your workplace social media policy. It may have clauses related to when/if it can be used, what can be posted (e.g., views, images, information) and any consequences of breaching the policy. Remember that anything you post on social media (open or closed group) can potentially be seen by anyone with access to social media and may be copied and shared, so the medico-legal risks remain.

The broader legal and professional requirements also apply. This may include complying with confidentiality and privacy obligations, not using clinical testimonials, maintaining professional boundaries, complying with your Board’s Code of Conduct, communicating professionally and respectfully, providing acceptable evidence for any scientific claims, and not presenting information that is false, misleading, or deceptive.

Each situation is different but ensure you are posting information in accordance with available scientific evidence, within your qualifications and expertise, being professional and respectful, and not endorsing a particular medication.

Don’t keep going to the review. The more you tell people about the review or go back to read it, it will move the negative review to the top of the list and give it even more attention.

If the review breaches the Terms of Service of the site or is defamatory, there may be action you can take – see Managing negative reviews below.

It is usually best not to respond to negative reviews. Opening a dialogue may cause more problems, and an angry or defensive response may harm your reputation more than the negative review.

If you do respond, remember your right of response is limited by patient confidentiality and maintaining the patient’s privacy – you are unable to discuss a patient’s medical problem in an open forum. We recommend any public response should be neutral, such as “we take all patient complaints seriously so please contact the practice so we can resolve your concerns.” If the review is sensible and genuine, and the therapeutic relationship can be salvaged, contact the patient directly in the same way as you would respond to a written complaint to the practice. The best way to address a negative review is for the patient to voluntarily remove the review.

The Medical Board’s Code of Conduct- Good Medical Practice states that professional boundaries are integral to a good doctor-patient relationship, and Ahpra’s guidelines include that doctors must maintain professional boundaries. If a patient tries to engage with you through social media about matters outside the professional relationship, politely decline to interact with them and direct them to your usual professional healthcare communication channels. If a patient asks clinical questions via social media, use a standard response that it is not appropriate for you to provide clinical advice by social media and advise them to make an appointment with a health practitioner. Seek advice from MDA National medico-legal advisory services.
Even if platforms are encrypted end to end, screen shots can be taken and shared. Understand the rules of any platform around use, moderation, access, and ownership. You must comply with TGA, ACCC, privacy laws, Ahpra obligations and requirements and maintain professionalism.

While it is legal to have these accounts, there is medico-legal exposure. Ensure you:

  • comply with relevant legislation.
  • abide by Ahpra’s Code of Conduct and maintain professionalism.
  • do not breach privacy by discussing patients in an open forum.
  • do not advertise prescription only medications.
  • make it clear your advice is not a substitute for treatment from their doctor.
  • align advice with scientific evidence that is within your area of expertise.
  • are aware that your advice may turn out to be incomplete or incorrect for an individual.
  • have a disclaimer stating that information is general information only and to seek advice from your health professional.
The regulator will become involved if there is a complaint made to them. If you have breached the laws and guidelines, Ahpra can choose to issue a warning, ask you to review your promotional/advertising material and request a response, or commence a prosecution for a breach of s133 of the National Law.

The Medical Board of Australia issued separate guidelines for advertising cosmetic surgery which came into effect in July 2023 and include:

  • titles and qualifications (e.g., no misleading terms such as ‘world’s best’) 
  • financial incentives (i.e., these cannot be used)
  • testimonials
  • arrangements with influencers (you are responsible for the content they produce)
  • images (various rules regarding how they are taken/used etc.)
  • risks and recovery (must include full information)
  • body image (consider the language used)
  • adult content (not available to under 18s)

If you advertise cosmetic surgery, you are strongly encouraged to review the links below to ensure you are not breaching any of the guidelines and are not advertising prescription medicines.

Need more specific advice?

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The information on this page is a guide only. Members are encouraged to contact us directly for specific advice. If you are not an MDA National Member, contact your medical indemnity insurer for advice specific to your situation.