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  • Social media is about communicating using internet-based applications such as forums, blogs and social networking sites.
  • You should maintain standards of professional communication when using social media.
  • Social media can support your work by sharing information in professional networks.
  • There are risks to using social media and any online postings you make are subject to the laws of copyright and defamation.
  • You should not share personal information.
  • You should be aware that anonymity is difficult to maintain when using social media.
  • You should declare any conflicts of interest when posting material online.
  • You should refer to sections on ConfidentialityPartnership with patientsMaintaining boundaries and Working with colleagues.
C134
This Guidance does not change what you must do under the law.
C135
Social media describes internet-based applications which allow individuals to create and exchange content and communicate with others. Examples of social media can include forums, blogs, microblogs (for example Twitter), wikis, podcasts, content communities (for example YouTube, WhatsApp and Flickr), and social networking sites (for example Facebook and LinkedIn).272
C136
You should follow the principles and standards of good communication when communicating in a professional or personal capacity, irrespective of the medium. See sections on Partnership with patients and Working with colleagues.
C137
You should not share identifiable information about patients in an internet chat forum as this would be an improper disclosure. See section on Confidentiality.
C138
You must respect copyright if you link or include images or other material.
C139
You can use social media to support your work as an optometrist and enhance your patient care by:
  1. being involved in clinical, public health or policy forums and networks
  2. participating in professional networks to find out about good practice
  3. contributing to information about eye health and services which patients can access.
C140
You should consider the purpose of your online profile and use appropriate security and preference settings.
C141
Social media sites can blur the boundary between professional and personal life, and comments that you publish in a personal capacity may become accessible by a much wider audience.
C142
If you identify yourself as working for a particular organisation, you must make it clear that any views you express are personal ones, and not necessarily those of your employer.
C143
If patients contact you for professional purposes, using your private profile, you should indicate you are unable to respond privately and redirect them to your professional profile or contacts. See section on Maintaining boundaries.
C144
Communications with colleagues and other professionals via social media may be more informal and less precise than if you use other formal means of communication, and this might lead to miscommunication. You should be aware that, by making an online posting, you are publishing text and this is subject to the same laws of copyright and defamation as other written or verbal communications, whether you make them in a personal or professional capacity.273, 274 You should not make personal or derogatory comments about patients or colleagues on public internet forums. You should be aware that material that is posted online can be traced back to the original author, even if it is done anonymously.
C145
Social media sites can often lack context and a posting can be misinterpreted.

References

273 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 [Accessed 3 Dec 2020]  
274 Defamation Act, 2013 [Accessed 3 Dec 2020]
C146
Online information can be easily accessed by others and so you should be aware of issues of privacy and confidentiality, and regularly review privacy settings in your profiles. This is important because:
  1. social media sites cannot guarantee confidentiality, irrespective of your privacy settings
  2. your patients, colleagues and other professional contacts may be able to access your personal information
  3. information about your location may be embedded within photographs and other content, available for others to see
  4. if you post significant amounts of your personal information online, patients may have access to this and this may impact upon your professional relationship with them
  5. once information is published online, it cannot be removed completely, as other users can distribute it more widely or comment on it.
C147
You must not share patient identifiable information through social media, without the patient’s explicit consent, even if it is on a site for practitioners and is not accessible to the public. When you ask for the patient’s consent you must tell the patient exactly how you intend to share the information, what it will be used for, and where it will be available. You should keep a record of these discussions and ask the patient to sign, indicating their consent.
C148
You can share anonymised patient information on sites that are for practitioners only. However, you should remember that, even if you anonymise patient information, the amount of additional information that is available online may mean that patients can be identified. This is a breach of patient confidentiality.
C149
You must not discuss individual patients or their care with anyone, including the patients themselves, on publicly accessible social media.
C150
You should think carefully about connecting with a patient on social media sites and should only do this in a professional context. If a patient sends a friend request to your personal account you should decline this.
C151
If you contribute optometric advice or comments to a publicly accessible social media site and identify yourself as an optometrist, you should also identify yourself by name. You should not use an anonymous profile on publicly accessible social media. Any material written by an author representing themselves as an optometrist is likely to be taken on trust.
C152
If you upload content anonymously you should be aware that it can be traced back to its point of origin.
C153
If you post material online you should be open about any conflict of interest and declare any financial or commercial interests in healthcare organisations, companies or any other interests that may be perceived to influence your opinion. This applies even if you post material anonymously.