Medical Boards Discipline Physicians for Online Behavior
Medical licensing boards are beginning to see complaints about unprofessional online behavior by physicians, and many of these complaints resulted in serious disciplinary actions, including license revocation, according to a research letter published in the March 21 issue of JAMA. Dr. Ryan Greysen, MD, Division of Hospital Medicine at The University of California, San Francisco, and his colleagues report that 48 of the 68 executive directors of medical licensing boards responded to the study survey. Of those 48 Medical Ethics Boards who responded, 44 (98%) indicated receiving at least 1 complaint about an online professional breach. The most common complaints reported inappropriate communication with a patient, such as sexual misconduct, which was reported to 33 of the 48 boards who responded.
“We’ve just found a new way to violate our own standards,” Jason Jent, PhD, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics, Division of Clinical Psychology, Department of Pediatrics, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Florida, said to Medscape Medical News. Dr. Jent, who has published about physician online behavior, has no association with the JAMA letter. “Some of the violations we’ve seen in face-to-face communication, or over the phone, or by mail have now extended to online behavior. This is something we have to pay attention to,” he added. The study authors say much the same: “Furthermore, these violations also may be important online manifestations of serious and common violations offline, including substance abuse, sexual misconduct, and abuse of prescription privileges.” Dr. Jent said that these violations may actually be underreported. “People come across these, and it’s so new they’re not sure they should report it,” he said. “Or, on the flip side, are we seeing an increasing prevalence of online professional violations that may call for more specific training for online behaviors?”