Social Media Best Practices

Developed by the AAOS Resident Assembly
June 2021

Social media has become a frequently utilized platform among physicians for the purposes of marketing and recruiting, patient education, physician networking and communication. With that in mind, the AAOS Resident Assembly in conjunction with the AAOS Communications Committee put forth the following recommendations to educate medical students, current residents and fellows about the appropriate use of social media. These best practices were developed in accordance with existing institutional guidelines across the nation as well as guidelines put forth by other professional organizations (American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, etc.).

1) Personal Social Media Use: All social media, regardless of privacy setting should be considered as visible to the general public, including state medical boards and credentialing bodies. Healthcare systems or state medical boards have issued formal censures to physicians and other healthcare providers due to violent or graphic content or unprofessional behavior on their personal social media accounts. Treat personal accounts with the same integrity as a professional account. Personal accounts should also be kept updated with your current certifications, credentials, practice locations, and services provided as to not create undue confusion or inconvenience for patients.

2) Patient Communication: If a surgeon chooses to interact with a patient via their personal or professional social media, professional boundaries must be respected, and patient privacy always maintained. Surgeons should not post information that would inadvertently violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and its accompanying rules (HIPAA), or other state or local privacy rules. It is the recommendation of the AAOS that any communication with patients take place on a privacy protected
account rather than social media. Practitioners who engage in discussions with patients should also not allow statements to appear as official medical advice that patients may use in lieu of an office or telemedicine visit.

3) Education: Surgeons should be careful to only provide education through peer-reviewed resources and not use social media to inform patients based on personal beliefs or anecdotes. Similarly, education of fellow surgeons and medical professionals should be held to the same standards as patient education with the use of peer-reviewed and widely known/accepted resources. Frequently, surgeons will use social media accounts to share cases and facilitate discussion to further education. While this has been widely accepted in the orthopaedic community, we all must strive to maintain patient privacy at all costs. No patient identifiers or identifying traits of patients can be visible in any of the content posted.

4) Compliance/Professionalism: When posting on social media whether personally or professionally, surgeons must keep in mind the reputation of all parties involved: patients, the surgeon, other providers, practice and partners, healthcare system, and the profession of orthopaedic surgery in general. All posts and content should be held to the utmost standards of professionalism and recognize that posted items may be widely seen and distributed to the general public. Pictures taken during patient care should respect patient privacy first and foremost as well as the public’s perception of pictures taken during a procedure or patient interaction.

5) Employer Guidelines: Finally, surgeons who choose to utilize social media accounts should investigate to learn if their employer or program has social media guidelines, and they should make themselves familiar with and strive to follow those guidelines. Employer guidelines may be much stricter with penalties that may include termination. Surgeons should also make themselves aware of any applicable HIPAA parameters, any state-specific privacy laws, and any policies that their specialty specific professional organizations may have adopted as well.

Reviewed by the AAOS Communications Committee and AAOS Membership Council
June 29, 2021

These best practices are for general information purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice. These best practices may not contain the most up-to-date legal or other information. You should not act or rely on information in this document without first seeking the advice of your legal counsel.