As Facebook Goes Public, Issues of Privacy Remain

No doubt you’ve heard the news that Facebook is going public, a move that will value the company at $75–$100 billion, make Mark Zuckerberg a billionaire 28 times over and further the company’s reach into the lives of the 845 million — and counting — people who have accounts.

That’s quite a target market for anyone hoping to market their business. But the latest news from Menlo Park also provides a timely reminder that the world’s biggest chat room can be dangerous place for doctors for whom privacy, confidentiality and professional conduct are paramount.

Writing in the British Medical Journal recently, Margaret McCartney, a Glasgow GP, captures the essence of the issue in an interview with Godwin Busuttil, a London-based attorney specializing in media law:

People tend to think of what they post on Facebook as purely their own private business and not to do with their professional life, he says. But in the real world such distinctions can’t be drawn quite so easily…

Does that mean you should avoid Facebook altogether or close that account you set up back in college? Not necessarily, it just means you need to be vigilant regarding what you post on your Wall, who’s reading it (and potentially sharing it elsewhere) and how the benefit of encouraging direct communication can impact patient privacy and your professional reputation.

Doctor Takeaways

1. Approach Facebook as you would the clinic elevator

You don’t share details of your patients’ cases in the elevator, right? And yet, the literature is rife with cases in which medical practitioners were reprimanded and even fired for sharing such information on Facebook, even when the patient wasn’t personally identified.

2. Opt for dual-citizenship

One way to avoid inappropriate disclosures is to maintain one Facebook page for your practice and another for your personal life. Keep your practice details, medical insights and patient testimonials on the former and your family photos, personal opinions and the details of your last trip to Vegas on the latter. You can be friendly with your patients but “friending” them will only further blur the personal-professional line.

3. Manage your privacy settings

If Mark Zuckerberg had his way, there would be no privacy at all online, not surprising since the site’s mind-boggling valuation is based on its ability to sell ads against what its users do and say online. As a result, it’s more important than ever that you check your privacy settings to control who sees what parts of your digital life. (Make your personal page private.) This will only become more important as the rollout of Facebook’s Timeline feature continues in the coming months, which we’ll cover in a subsequent post.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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