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Medical Council survey highlights importance of patient confidentiality in doctor's social media use

Doctors are the most trusted profession in Ireland

A Medical Council survey published today (30th of July 2015) highlights the importance of doctors maintaining patient confidentiality while using social media.

The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted to inform the development of new Medical Council guidance on professional conduct and ethics.

Feedback on doctors’ use of social media found that 76% of people agreed that if their doctor posted personal information on social media such as Facebook or Twitter, it would make them think differently about his or her professionalism. 96% agreed with the statement that a doctor should never share patient information on social media. Feedback from doctors has also pointed to the issue of social media as one requiring additional guidance from the Medical Council. The Medical Council has recently published a new draft Guide for Professional Conduct and Ethics (8th Edition) for consultation, which includes, among other topics, additional guidance on social media use by doctors.

In relation to telemedicine, which the Medical Council has also updated its guidance on, the report found that only 3% of patients have stated that they have used online services for the purpose of receiving diagnosis, having a consultation or to be given a repeat or new prescription, while 16% have used phone services for clinical health care. Of the patients who have not used telemedicine services, 70% said that they were very or quite unlikely to do so over the next year.


The survey also found that doctors remain the most trusted profession in Ireland with 91% of patients agreeing that they trust their doctor to tell the truth. Further findings include:

  • Nine in ten (91%) patients were satisfied with the doctor they attend most often;
  • Nine in ten patients (88%) had never experienced anything requiring a complaint about a doctor;
  • The majority of people who had seen media coverage of fitness to practise inquiries involving doctors felt that it either improved or made no difference to their impression of doctors.

Speaking today, Vice President of the Medical Council and Chair of its Ethics and Professionalism Committee, Dr Audrey Dillon said: “It is immensely important that the Medical Council is alive to the concerns of patients in relation to social media and confidentiality, but we also have to be cognisant of the fact that doctors can gain professionally as well as personally from using social media platforms. With our new guide to conduct and ethics, we have tried to strike a balance by encouraging appropriate social media use by doctors, and we hope that members of the public along with doctors take the time to provide their views on this draft guidance”.

Catherine Whelan, Interim CEO of the Medical Council also commented on the findings, saying: “To find that the vast majority of patients are satisfied with the care they receive from their doctor is very encouraging, and demonstrates to us once again, just how pivotal it is for doctors to establish and maintain a relationship with their patients based on trust. Our aim at the Medical Council is to guide and support doctors so that trust continues to underpin the patient-doctor relationship whether it’s in person or online”.

For more information on the survey go to: http://bit.ly/publicperceptionsurvey