Social-media savvy dentists are urged to keep professional and personal relationships separate when using Twitter and Facebook.
The advice comes in light of the new GDC Standards for the Dental Team which for the first time includes guidance on using social media.
The new standards came into effect on Monday, replacing Standards for Dental Professionals.
Changes to the updated guidance include standalone principles on communication and personal behaviour along with new requirements to display indicative prices for treatment.
However, the inclusion of social media guidance – which also covers blogs and internet forums – reflects the growing role that Facebook and Twitter play in society and MDDUS reminds dentists of the potential risks involved when interacting online.
MDDUS head of dental division, Aubrey Craig, said: 'Nowadays, the vast majority of people use social media as part of their everyday lives. It is vitally important to keep professional and personal relationships separate. Dentists who interact with patients via social media risk blurring these boundaries.
'Before tweeting or posting on Facebook, dentists should consider any potential impact on their patients that could arise as a result of their tweet or post. The new guidance gives dentists who are active on social media clarity and direction on what they can and cannot do and should help avoid any potential conflicts of interest.'
The guidance states dentists should: 'Think carefully before accepting friend requests from patients.'
Craig, however, believes the best course of action is to decline any such request.
He said: 'In order to maintain appropriate professional boundaries with patients, dentists should politely refuse any friend request and explain to the patient the need to maintain professional boundaries.'
The GDC guidance recognises online discussions about anonymised patients and best practice can have an educational and professional benefit, but it also states: 'If you use social media to discuss anonymised cases for the purpose of discussing best practice, you must be careful that the patient or patients cannot be identified.'
It also reminds dental practitioners that posting information under another username does not guarantee confidentiality.
Craig added: 'Social media can be useful for exchanging views within the profession, but the widespread use of social media has resulted in even greater scrutiny on healthcare professionals. Dental practitioners should remember their duty to their patients and the public’s trust in the profession.
'One further way to increase safety is to check privacy settings so you can control who can access your posts or tweets. This doesn’t guarantee complete control but can minimise risk.'
Standards for the Dental Team also sets out the standards of conduct, performance and ethics that dental professionals are expected to follow at all times as well as what patients can expect from dental professionals.
He concluded: 'If a complaint is made about a GDC registrant, it is against the principles set out in this document that their behaviour and conduct will be measured. Therefore, it is imperative to familiarise yourself with all the information within the new guidance.'