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    Time: Are Med-Student Tweets Breaching Patient Privacy?

    Time reports on a new survey that finds unprofessional conduct online (on blogs and social-networking sites such as Facebook) is common among medical students. I have highlighted incidents of confidential medical data being published online before. In one case, two employees of a New Mexico hospital were fired for using mobile phone cameras to take pictures of patients and then posting the photos to a social networking Web site. In another case, a person filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Human Services alleging violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) after reading posts about patients on the MySpace page of an employee at an OB/GYN office.

    Time reports that some medical students aren’t comprehending health privacy rules:

    Although med students fully understand patient-confidentiality laws and are indoctrinated in the high ethical standards to which their white-coated profession is held, many of them still use Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and other sites to depict and discuss lewd behavior and sexual misconduct, make discriminatory statements and discuss patient cases in violation of confidentiality laws, according to the survey, which was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Of the 80 medical-school deans questioned, 60% reported incidents involving unprofessional postings and 13% admitted to incidents that violated patient privacy. Some offenses led to expulsion from school. […]

    Though medical students would agree that physicians — and other professionals, like teachers — should be held to a higher standard of integrity by society, the new study suggests that they’re confused by how rules apply, especially in cyberspace, once the white coat comes off. “They view their Facebook pages as their Internet persona,” says Dr. Neil Parker, senior associate dean for student affairs for graduate medical education at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. “They think it’s something only for their friends, even though it’s not private.”

    Social networking site users are quickly learning that the data they post online is public and usually permanent. Once data is published online, it’s difficult to control who sees it and how the data is used. Even “private” Facebook profiles are at risk of perusal by someone you might not want to have access. Recently, there was a Canadian case, Leduc v. Roman, in which “the Ontario Superior Court of Justice made an order permitting the defendant to cross-examine a plaintiff in a motor vehicle accident suit […] regarding the kind of content he posted on his private Facebook profile.” For more, here’s a previous post on a point-counterpoint debate about social networking sites and privacy.

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