Professionalism for Physicians

The Hippocratic Oath is one of the first ethical conduct statements used by physicians. Contrary to popular belief, the oath is not required by most modern medical schools. Today many medical schools have recognized the importance that professionalism and ethics play in medicine and have incorporated these fundamentals into their curriculum.

Many professional societies and associations in health care also recognize the importance of professionalism and ethics, resulting in the creation of documents like the “Charter on Medical Professionalism." This document which was referenced in Social Media 120, references three guiding principles and ten attributes of professionalism for physicians.

Guiding principles:

  • Primacy of patient welfare - Serving the best interest of the patient.
  • Patient autonomy - Be honest and empower patients to make informed decisions about their care.
  • Social justice - Promote justice in the health care system.


  • Professional competence - Committed to lifelong learning and maintaining medical knowledge.
  • Honesty - Honestly inform patients.
  • Patient confidentiality - Confidentiality safeguards must be applied.
  • Maintaining appropriate relations - Don't exploit patients for sexual, personal, or other private purposes.
  • Improving quality of care - Dedicated to continuous improvement.
  • Improving access to care- Reduce barriers to health care.
  • Just distribution of finite resources – Cost-effective management of resources.
  • Scientific knowledge - Uphold scientific standards, promote research, create new knowledge.
  • Maintaining trust by managing conflicts of interest - Disclose to the public and address all conflicts of interest.
  • Professional responsibilities - Work collaboratively to maximize patient care.

Here are a few examples of how these attributes can apply to social media:

  • Professional competence - Social media can assist physicians in maintaining medical knowledge by keeping them in touch with other physicians around the globe, sharing latest technologies and medical breakthroughs.
  • Honesty - Social platforms can help ensure patients are honestly informed by connecting them and promoting the sharing of  information on treatment options, etc.
  • Patient confidentiality - Social media should not be used for communicating sensitive patient information.
  • Maintaining appropriate relations - Physicians should not use social media for unprofessional interactions with patients.
  • Improving quality of care - Social media can improve the quality of care through improved provider education and communication.
  • Improving access to care- Patients who are informed better via social media will make better choices when it comes to their care.
  • Just distribution of finite resources – Most social tools are free!
  • Scientific knowledge - Social media can assist in promoting research and sharing new knowledge by its speed and reach.
  • Professional responsibilities - Social platforms are interactive and can be a catalyst for collaboration. Collaboration between providers will help maximize patient care.

The purpose of the “Charter on Medical Professionalism" is to help physicians reaffirm their dedication to professionalism in everything they do, including how they behave online in social spaces. Many physicians find applying principles of professionalism to the online environment challenging. This is reflected in a recent article in JAMA where some physicians using Twitter were sending messages seen as unprofessional and/or unethical. A lapse in online judgment by physicians can be very bad for the reputation of the profession. Former Mayo Clinic resident, Scott Albin, M.D. created the e-Hippocratic Oath to help professionally challenged physicians understand how to not behave online. In this oath, Dr. Albin emphasizes professionalism and the physician’s use of social media.

e-Hippocratic Oath

  • Physicians should not comment-on, share, or post protected patient care related information via social media.
  • Protected patient-care related information disclosure should occur solely through secure and protected systems (i.e. not social media), designed and maintained for the intended purpose of documenting and communicating protected patient care related information.
  • Physicians should not "friend" patients on social networks.
  • Social network friendships between a physician and a patient lead to sharing of personal information that may negatively impact appropriate professional relationships.
  • Physicians should not get involved with moral turpitude via social media.

This oath should give physicians another set of guidelines to help them determine what they should and shouldn't do online.  Appropriate use of social media by physicians is a vital component to adoption of social platforms in the health care setting.  If physicians see how these platforms can benefit themselves and how they can help their patients, they will be come champions  of social media that can help spread the use of these tools within our organizations.

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