A social media slip-up

A GPST saw blood test results for an elderly patient with a significantly raised tumour marker. Later that evening, he posted the patient’s blood test result on a closed forum for doctors and asked for advice on breaking bad news.

Another GP in the group, whose father had just been told that he required an urgent biopsy, realised that the GPST had been describing her father’s case. As the test result figure was the same she was able to confirm her suspicions by looking at his user-profile.

The patient complained, after his daughter had explained what had happened, that his confidentiality had been breached in a public forum and by the tone of the discussion that took place.

The GPST responded to say that he was sincerely sorry for his thoughtless post and the distress he had caused. He reflected carefully on what had happened, explaining that he now realised that even anonymised information could identify a patient.

The GPST advised, in future he would be even more cautious about positing anything on professional internet forums. The practice also held a significant event meeting and considered whether the breach was reportable to the ICO.

MDU advice

  • Social media can be a valuable tool but your ethical responsibilities still apply online, including the need to respect patient confidentiality and behave professionally.
  • Be extremely cautious when using membership-only professional sites to seek advice. Even if you are confident that an individual post has been sufficiently anonymised, bear in mind that someone close to the patient may still be able to identify them.
  • Before posting online, even in closed groups, consider what the purpose of the post is and who might read it.
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