Staying professional on social media as a dental graduate

Iqra Chawdhary discusses the ins and outs of social media, and how newly-qualified dentists can keep it professionalIqra Chawdhary discusses the ins and outs of social media, and how newly-qualified dentists can keep it professional. 

Since the beginning of lockdown, many novice dental professionals have been trying to find ways to occupy their newfound free time. For some, this has involved acquiring a new skill, picking up a hobby or simply having some more ‘down time’.

Others have turned to social media; either by starting their own Instagram accounts or YouTube channels dedicated to all thing’s dentistry. In today’s media-driven society, online networking can be a very useful tool to communicate with others on both a personal and professional level.

As a newly-qualified dentist myself, I have chosen not to hop on this dental ‘influencer’ trend as of yet. But I feel it is very important for those who have to understand and reflect on their responsibilities and duties as dental professionals online, in order to use social media in a safe and professional way.

What is social media?

Social media is a collective term used to describe any online websites or applications that enables users to interact with others, participate in social networking, and create and share content. Social media covers a variety of internet-based platforms. This includes online forums, blogs and social networking apps such as YouTube, Instagram, GDPUK, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (1).

How can social media help you?

As a dental professional, using social media can help you to:

  • Interact with like-minded people
  • Build your professional network
  • Share your knowledge and ideas
  • Gain advice and support from those more experienced than you
  • Advocate on issues you are passionate about in the profession
  • Stay up to date with developments in the profession

In addition, the General Dental Council (1) mentions that social media can be a useful way of sharing information for the benefit of your work or business. It’s also an effective way of advertising your products and services.

Professional standards and guidance for dental professionals

  • The General Dental Council (GDC) ‘Standards for the Dental Team’ 4.2.3 states (2):
    • “You must not post any information or comments about patients on social networking or blogging sites. If you use professional 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”.
  • In 2016, the GDC published further guidance for the safe and professional use of social media in a document titled: ‘guidance on using social media’ (1).

When using social media, we should apply the same professional standards that are expected of us in ‘real-life’. As dental professionals, we must remember that our duty to patient confidentiality and our responsibility to behave professionally and responsibly applies both online and offline. Taking the GDC guidance and standards into consideration, the following tips will help you stay professional when using social media.

  1. Behave responsibly online and maintain the public’s trust in the profession

  • The GDC (1) states that you “Should not post any information; including personal views, photographs or videos which could damage public confidence in the profession”.
  • When using social media, you should ensure you maintain your professional image, whether you are acting in a professional or personal capacity.
  • You should avoid uploading:
    • Inappropriate photographs or videos
    • Racist images, posts or videos
    • Derogatory, inaccurate or personal comments about patients or colleagues
  • Posting inappropriate comments or photographs could damage your reputation. It could also leave you vulnerable to a GDC fitness to practice investigation and could jeopardise your registration.
  • If a patient has taken to an online platform to complain about you or the service they have received at your dental practice, then you should respond politely. Do this without breaching patient confidentiality. Invite them to get in contact with the practice directly in order to discuss the matter further.
  1. Remember that anything you post is in the public domain

  • Remember anything you post on social media, even if it is posted privately, has the potential to be redistributed further than you intended and viewed by unwanted audiences.
  • Before posting online, you should think about who could potentially be reading or seeing what you post
  • Treat anything you write or post on social media as if you are signing your name with it. It is also a good idea to presume that anything you post online will be there permanently. Even if you delete it afterwards.
  1. Maintain appropriate boundaries with your patients

  • The GDC (1) states that you should “maintain appropriate boundaries in the relationships you have with patients and other members of the dental team”.
  • If you are using social media to allow your patients to keep up-to-date with the dental practice’s news and information, then there is no problem with a patient following or adding your practice’s social media account. If you are using social media to promote your practice, then you should also make sure that any information posted online complies with the GDC guidance on ethical advertising (3).
  • The DDU (4) advises that it is best to not accept patient follow or friend requests on your personal accounts. Similarly, you should not use social media to enter into discussions with your patients either.
  • It is a good idea to keep your personal and professional accounts separate. That way the professional boundary between you and your patients can still be maintained online.
  1. Regularly review your privacy settings for all your social media accounts

  • Different social media platforms have different privacy settings. It allows you to adjust them depending on how private you want your social media activity to be. However, bear in mind that your privacy can never be guaranteed
  • A good rule to follow is to never post, share or reveal anything on social media that you wouldn’t be happy for a journalist to get hold off or see printed in a newspaper
  • It is a good idea to keep your personal accounts private. Limit access to friends and family only.
  1. Protect patients’ information and maintain patient confidentiality

  • The GDC (1) states that you must Maintain and protect patients’ information by not publishing any information which could identify them on social media without their explicit consent”.
  • If you wish to use personal information or images about your patients on your social media, it is important to obtain valid consent in writing. Ensure that you have told them how the information will be used, for what purpose and where it will be used, for example:
    • Before and after photographs
    • Testimonial videos or comments
  • Failing to obtain consent could amount to a breach of patient confidentiality and lead to negative consequences for your reputation and registration.
  1. Do not use social media to raise concerns

  • The GDC (1) states that you “Should not use social media as a way of raising concerns if you believe patients are being put at risk by a colleague’s conduct, behaviour or by your working environment”.
  • If you have a concern about a child or a vulnerable adult or a colleague’s conduct, then you should not use social media to voice this. Instead, you should refer to your practices raising concerns or safeguarding policy. For more advice and information, you should refer to principle 8 of the GDC ‘Standards for the dental team’ document (2). Alternatively, seek advice from your indemnity provider.
  1. Be aware of inappropriate groups, forums and communities online

  • There are a variety of online groups, forums and communities that allow individuals with similar interests or careers to interact. These groups can be a great opportunity for like-minded individuals to communicate with each other. However, it is important to keep these communications to a professional standard.
  • Remember, even if it is a ‘closed’ or ‘private’ online forum or group, anything you post online can still be distributed further. The name of the online groups you have joined may still be visible to the public even if it is a private group. In the past, some dental professionals have found themselves in hot water after joining groups mocking their patients or the profession (4).
  1. Follow the social media policy within your dental practice

  • The GDC (1) states you should “Comply with any internet and social media policy set out by your employer”.
  • Before you start work at a practice, you should read their internet and social media policy.
  1. Do not use social media for bullying

  • As with any social situation, there can be some negative interactions on social media platforms too. The term “internet troll” has become widely recognised to describe individuals who aim to intentionally upset others online. Unfortunately, the online dental community is not immune to this
  • The GDC (1) states that you should “Treat colleagues fairly and with respect, in all forms of interaction and communication and you must not instigate or take part in any form of cyber bullying, intimidation or use of offensive language online, including sharing inappropriate content posted by someone else”.
  • If you share any such content posted by someone else, you can still be held liable even though you did not create it
  • If you encounter or see any bullying within the workplace, then you should not use social media to escalate it. Instead report it to your employer or seek advice from your indemnity provider
  • If you encounter or see any bullying online, then it should be reported immediately to the social media’s help centre. 
  1. If in doubt, contact your dental defence organisation

  • Your dental defence organisation can advise you on how to appropriately manage any issues that may occur from your social media activity throughout your career.
  • The DDU have developed an interactive e-learning CPD module to help dental professionals maximise the benefits of using social media and appreciate its pitfalls, whilst meeting ethical and legal obligations (5).

It may seem as though there is a lot to consider when on social media. However, this should not deter you from using it. Social media can be an invaluable tool in building your profile. It helps you to network with other professionals and in educating the public. However, you must use your social media platform with great care. Follow the GDC guidance and standards in order to use it safely.

It is worth mentioning that it is equally acceptable to not have a professional social media account. The recent rise in the dental ‘influencer’ trend has led to numerous novice dental professionals creating professional social media accounts. This may make you feel as though you need to do the same in order to be in the ‘loop’.

However, it is important that you never feel pressured into doing so just because your colleagues or someone else is doing it. There are many newly-qualified dental professionals, like myself, who have chosen not to start a professional social media account just yet. If you want to start a professional social media account and it feels right to you then by all mean do it. But remember, opting out does not mean missing out.

References

General Dental Council (2016). Guidance on using social media. Online. Available at: https://www.gdc-uk.org/docs/default-source/principle-4/guidance-on-using-social-media.pdf?sfvrsn=abf03a63_2 [Accessed 6 July 2020]

General Dental Council (2013). Standards for the dental team. Online. Available at: https://www.gdc-uk.org/information-standards-guidance/standards-and-guidance/standards-for-the-dental-team [Accessed 6 July 2020]

General Dental Council (2013). Guidance on advertising. Online. Available at:

https://www.gdc-uk.org/docs/default-source/guidance-documents/guidance-on-advertising.pdf?sfvrsn=a5540520_2 [Accessed 6 July 2020]

DDU (2020). The golden rules of social media. Online. Available at: https://www.theddu.com/guidance-and-advice/guides/~/~/link.aspx?_id=EA3B1B6BF8CE4B2498F0828CEDBA0923&_z=z [Accessed 6 July 2020]

DDU (2020). Social media for dental professionals. Online. Available at: https://www.theddu.com/learn-and-develop/course-listing/social-media-for-dental-professionals [Accessed 6 July 2020]

 

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