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Go Social: The Pharmacist’s Guide to Using Social Media

A growing number of healthcare professionals now use social media as part of their work, and pharmacists are no exception. 

When used appropriately, social media can help you in numerous ways, such as connecting with patients, educating the general public, and contributing to conversations within the healthcare community. 

However, like any online activity, the use of social media comes with its fair share of risks. To keep these to a minimum, you should exercise judgment, adhere to professional standards, and be mindful of relevant legal requirements. 

Take a moment to learn about social media best practices for pharmacists.

Social Media for Pharmacists:
Read These 6 Rules Before Posting Anything Online 

Here are key guidelines for using social media as a pharmacist: 

1. Know What Counts as Social Media 
The definition of “social media” may be considerably broader than you think. Naturally, it includes the most popular social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. However, the term may also encompass career development platforms, including LinkedIn and industry-specific professional networks like the American Pharmacists Association (APhA)

Medical information websites such as The Pharmacists Society that allow user commentary may also be considered a form of collaborative social media. 

Considering this broad definition of social media, it may be best to use caution when posting anything on the internet. Treat any online tool that allows interaction between users as social media.

2. Safeguard Patient Privacy 
As a healthcare professional, you have an ethical and legal obligation to uphold the privacy of personal health information (PHI). This responsibility applies to all private and public communication, whether offline or online. 

When using social media, it is critical to follow all relevant patient privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations, including HIPAA. This may be especially important when communicating with patients or discussing specific cases. Remember that only protecting a patient’s name may not be enough to shield their identity. For example, photos of patients, even if they don’t include the patient’s face or any personal details about the patient, are breaches of patients’ privacy/confidentiality rights.

In addition to laws, regulations and ethical guidelines issued by professional associations, your workplace may have its own social media policy, which you must be familiar with and adhere to. If there are competing guidelines, it is always a good rule of thumb to follow the most stringent parameters.
3. Keep Discussions Courteous and Respectful 
Social media provides pharmacists with platforms where they can exchange information, share knowledge, and have conversations about pharmacy practice and healthcare in general. 

While these platforms can be collaborative and informative, some online discussions may become emotional. To avoid unpleasant situations, you should strive to conduct yourself in a respectful manner in your online communication. Only give constructive criticism, avoid ad hominem attacks (in which you critique an individual’s character rather than their viewpoint on a given topic), and do not denigrate any person, group, institution, or profession. 

4. Disclose Conflicts of Interest
Online activity can give users a false sense of anonymity. However, that does not relieve you from your ethical obligation to declare potential conflicts of interest, especially when you refrain from identifying yourself as a licensed professional. Depending on the situation, you may be required to disclose vested interests, such as a business affiliation with a particular brand, or identify yourself with your real name and credentials. 

Examples of disclosing conflicts of interest on social media may include: 
  • Disclosing a sponsorship with a healthcare brand or product that you are promoting online.
  • Adding a disclaimer to your profile that any professional advice or content you post online is intended to be general best practices within the pharmacy industry, rather than recommendations tailored to an individual patient or reader.

5. Act with Integrity
The law and licensure boards hold pharmacists and other healthcare practitioners to a high standard of professionalism. 

As a result, you should seek to set a positive example and act with integrity on social media. Any content you post online may have far-reaching consequences, affecting careers, reputations, and feelings for years to come.
With that in mind, refrain from doing anything that could:
  • Disclose patient personal information
  • Reflect poorly on the profession
  • Undermine public confidence in pharmacy services

6. Carefully Balance the Benefits and the Liabilities 
Before engaging in any activity on social media, you may want to consider the likely outcomes and whether the benefits outweigh the potential risks. 

For instance, if you provide pharmacy advice online, that may give rise to a pharmacist-patient relationship, which includes all the ensuing obligations and liabilities. To protect yourself, it might be best to refrain from using social media to interact with patients.

If you choose to use social media for professional purposes, separate personal and work-related accounts. Distinct personal and professional accounts could help you exercise better control over who can access your data and retain boundaries between professional and personal information. Keep in mind that privacy policies change, so you may want to check your settings from time to time.

Social Media for Pharmacists:
The Bottom Line

The good news? Social media isn’t all negative. If you are cognizant of the risks that social media poses, incorporating it can offer many benefits. You can leverage social media to:
  • Seek advice from colleagues
  • Discover new medical information and increase your knowledge 
  • Participate in dialogues that can benefit the general public and the profession at large 
When social media is used appropriately and thoughtfully, it may help you connect with peers, expand your knowledge, and become a better pharmacist. 
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