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Social Media: The Line Between Professional and Personal

Nov 20, 2019

Social media and its use by health care professionals has been in the news recently. One question seems to re-emerge regularly: is it always clear when someone is posting in a professional capacity versus a personal capacity?  

Most recently, a finding of professional misconduct was made by the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association (SRNA), along with a $1,000 fine and a requirement to pay $25,000 towards the association’s legal costs. A complaint was submitted about a nurse’s Facebook posts criticizing the care her grandfather received in a long-term care facility. The posts were made from the nurse’s personal account, but in them she identified herself as a nurse. 

In another case in July 2019, the court upheld a decision and $100,000 fine by a regulator against a former Halifax chiropractor who made anti-vaccination statements on her personal social media accounts.  

In both cases, members were posting and using their professional title and were held to college standards.  

Many of us share details about our personal lives on social media, from posting photos of what we did on the weekend to sharing our thoughts on the election. PTs use social media professionally as well – to educate patients, promote their businesses and connect with colleagues. The line between your personal and professional life isn’t so obvious. At the end of the day, social media is a public-facing medium and even if you think you’re posting exclusively to your friends list, your post is not actually that private. 
When using social media and using your title physiotherapist, follow the same rules that you would for any other form of communication: 

  1. Maintain professional boundaries with patients  
  2. Ensure patient privacy 
  3. Communicate respectfully and professionally 
If a member of the public were to make a complaint, could a physiotherapist be held accountable for expressing personal views that may differ from the professional standards and their commitment to maintaining the public interest? The two cases above indicate yes.   

Some regulators in Canada and abroad have developed social media policies and guides for their members. Most provide guidelines for posting as a professional.  

Does the College need to provide rules or guidance? 

A few regulators address posts made via personal social media accounts. The College of Physiotherapists of Manitoba states: “When an individual self-identifies as a physiotherapist, he/she is using title and may be subject to the Standards of the College, even on personal accounts.” 
The College of Physical Therapists of B.C. writes: “Posting negative comments or inappropriate or offensive material can undermine public trust of the physical therapy profession and may be considered cyberbullying.”  

And Physiotherapy New Zealand advises, “It’s a good idea when online to pretend that what you are saying/doing is for everyone and forever.” 

Would it be helpful to have guidelines or even a standard speaking to social media? Or can physiotherapists use their good judgment in applying the existing standards?  

Let us know by responding to the poll below. You can also leave us a comment.

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If you have questions regarding the use of social media as a physiotherapist, whether it’s for personal or professional use, don’t hesitate to call the Practice Advice team at 1-800-583-5885 (extension 241). 


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