Keeping It Professional on Social Media

March 14, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO—The growth of social networking sites and other electronic media over the past decade has made mental health professionals vulnerable to personal and professional risk, warned John Luo, MD, during his recent presentation at Elevate by Psych Congress 2017.

“All the stuff online you think is private? It really isn’t,” said Dr. Luo, clinical professor of psychiatry, director of the psychiatry residency program, and the interim chief medical information officer at the University of California, Riverside. “It’s like a postcard. Anyone can read it.”

Depending on your privacy settings, Facebook posts can viewed by friends of friends, for instance. Search engines like PeekYou and InstantCheckmate specialize in scouring databases, compiling, and listing personal stats—such as your age, home address, and relatives’ names—to anyone who requests them. Even something as innocuous as an Amazon wish list can reveal information you may not feel comfortable publicizing.   

“All the personal stuff about you impacts your professional reputation,” said Dr. Luo. “It’s information your patients and your colleagues know about you.”

To protect your reputation and keep yourself safe, monitor your online presence by Googling yourself regularly and use social media responsibly, Dr. Luo advised. Avoid “friending” patients, responding to their comments, or providing direct care on social networking sites. Remove personal details such as your complete birth date and location, turn off automatic geo-tagging on your smart phone, and mark retail wish-list settings private. (A colleague of Dr. Luo’s once had a patient drop a remark about his daughter’s birthday after seeing a My Little Pony doll on such a list.)

In addition, prohibit yourself and staff members from posting about coworkers, the workplace, or patients in an unprofessional (or, in the case of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, illegal) manner.

“If you wouldn’t say it in an elevator, don’t say it online,” he advised.

To gain greater influence over your online reputation, Dr. Luo recommended creating a professional website as well as accurate profiles on professional networking and physician rating sites.

“If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, you should,” he said, “because it’s an opportunity to have a professional presence online.”

Legitimate sites with appropriate professional information are likely to push sketchy sites with inaccurate information further down in search results, he said. You may not be able to control every bit of information that appears about you on the web, but you can minimize risk by being aware and smart about how you use it, he advised.

 —Jolynn Tumolo


“Social media & psychiatry: Best practices for maintaining a professional online presence.” Presented at Elevate by Psych Congress 2017; March 4, 2017; San Francisco, CA.