Is Your Doctor Drunk on Facebook?

Medical students may need to study Facebook Privacy 101.

Drunk Facebook doctors

Facebook privacy concerns just hit a whole new level with the result of a recent study and a hospital horror story that suggests far too much information is made public on the Facebook pages of those to whom you entrust your life and health.

First came the story of William Wells, who arrived at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California on April 9 severely wounded. He died, but not before nurses could post pics of him on Facebook. Four staffers were fired, three disciplined, but none of the nurses involved were let go, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Almost equally alarming are some of the photos doctors post of themselves. The new study indicates that 46% of the recent medical school graduates in the study had public photos showing them drinking alcohol and 10% had public photos of them intoxicated. Questions, naturally, are now being raised over appropriate boundaries for doctors on Facebook.

But is the greater lesson here that doctors, like lawyers and judges, should be instructed in how to properly use social networking sites, including how to adjust privacy settings? With the very trusted role that doctors play in patients’ lives and the excess of private information available on the Web, it seems pertinent that Facebook management courses become mandatory in medical school.

Lest more people turn out like poor William Wells.

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  • Zak Morris

    While reading this article I felt a gigantic wave of "Who cares?" I don't. If my doctor gets totally smashed after he's done removing my appendix, Hell I'll go drink with him. If he wants to post pictures of himself while smashed, let him! Who cares? He's not standing over a patient with a scalpel in one hand and a bottle of Jack in the other. No on 'needs to learn' how to post. I also think it's vile that employers check out the private social pages of their prospective employees to screen them for hire. I refuse to be afraid of what I can and cannot post, and no one else should put up with it. Only problem with this philosophy is that there's no real way to control it.
    Also you don't save that much time typing SocMed over 'Social Media' :D

  • Bryan Coe

    Yes, doctors or nurses posting pictures of patients on Facebook or any form of social media and in fact taking pictures of patients and releasing them in any form is a disgrace and a breach in patient confidentiality. However, pictures posted on Facebook of a doctor, nurse or any prominent person drinking doesn't even compare. These individuals are just people too. Being seen with alcohol is not a crime. There are checks in place to make sure that doctors are not operating after drinking as well as consequences.

    I think it is irresponsible of Nerenberg and Fast Company for making the comparison "Almost equally alarming are some of the photos doctors post of themselves." As long as it's not at the workplace or prior to going to work. No foul.

    So, to say they need a special course for how to use social media based on this comparison is misguided at best. But, with the continually changing privacy settings, social media education in general is probably a good thing because most people don't understand how the privacy works or the implications of leaving everything on default

  • Mike Kelley

    While the posting pictures of patients thing is above and beyond ridiculous, I don't really see a problem with doctors/public officials/whatever having a good time and having those photos on facebook. As Matthew said, if he's throwing back a beer or taking vodka shots while performing surgery that's one thing, and I don't think that would happen anyway without news getting out with or without facebook/et al. Disallowing them from posting pictures of them drinking isn't going to make them stop drinking after work.

  • Sheena Medina

    I disagree with the assessment that all doctors, lawyers, judges, pilots, government officials, public figures, CEOs, and others need instruction on how to "properly" use social media. You can't take one social media horror story and use that as a basis to form regulatory structures for something so vast and rapidly changing. Furthermore, it really surprises me in an age of transparency and authenticity that people become so concerned about what others choose to share on the Internet. We all have private lives. So why do we try and pretend that public figures are not fallible human beings? In today's culture why do we even pretend that our lives are remotely as private as we say or think they are?

    In the age of social media, technology enables us to pick and choose what we share. Time and time again in the privacy debate, the issue of over sharing comes up. One of the best rules to govern your actions online is this: Don't put anything, anywhere on the Internet that you don't want the whole wide world to see. Period (as noted in the Facebook discussion surrounding this topic: This is true enough. But the deeper issue it this: No one is forcing you to air all of your dirty laundry to the world, but if they do why are we shocked to discover that we all have some?

  • Matthew Whittington

    I do not understand how doctors posting pictures of themselves drinking or intoxicate is anywhere close to being as disturbing as posting pictures of a patient. If the doctors were throwing back a beer in surgery that would pose a problem for me, but I expect that doctors like people in other professions will occasionally have a drink.

    What is unbelievable to me is that nurses could think that it's appropriate to post pictures of a patient. That is deplorable and possibly the worst misuse of social media that I've heard of.

  • Emily

    I believe that all professionals need to learn how to post appropriate profile pictures of themselves (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin). This isn't a problem isolated just to the medical industry, although, this problem will have larger ramifications for their staff.

    The problem with attempting to regulate what your staff post online, is that the more rules you dictate, the more they rebel...a fact most of us SocMed addict know all too well. As SocMed polices are created, they must address how much of an employee's private online life they can dictate. How much is appropriate? There is a fine boundary, which if you end up on the wrong side can lead you into an ORM nightmare.

    All things being obvious and said, perhaps SocMed policy isn't so much about dictation of what doctors post in their profiles, but as this article states, what level their privacy settings should be at.

    It's a lesson about SocMed policy for all of us :)...Now, to search my Dr.

  • Michael Russell

    Hospital CEO-turned consultant Nick Jacobs, FACHE addresses this exact issue in his most recent blog post. Mr. Jacobs, unlike some of his more mundane, healthcare executive peers, is a decidedly outside-the-box kind of guy with a lot of original ideas, including coping with the Nurse Jackies and Dr. McDrunkyPants-es of the world.

    Check out his “Modern Healthcare's Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”