UK Doctors in the fast lane on social media guidance

The first-ever practical guide to help UK doctors navigate their way around the ethical and confidentiality dilemmas of social media is published today by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in collaboration with and LimeGreen Media.

The Social Media Highway Code is a collation of practical and supportive advice based around a 10-point plan. The advice was provided by a range of people with an interest in social media, including doctors, nurses, journalists, lawyers, students and patients.

It is intended to help and encourage healthcare professionals to communicate effectively using various social media channels, whilst adhering to the conventions that their patients, their colleagues and the public might reasonably expect.

The points in the Code include:

• Recognise that the personal and professional can’t always be separated
• Engage with the public but be cautious of giving personal advice
• Respect the privacy of all patients, especially the vulnerable
• Show your human side, but maintain professional boundaries

A first draft of the guide was launched at the RCGP annual conference last October and prompted an exciting online debate joined by doctors across the UK, Europe and Australia, which trended No.1 in the UK on Twitter.

Since then, healthcare professionals from all over the world have been providing feedback on the Code through Twitter, Facebook and the online forums on The feedback has now been reviewed and the themes incorporated into the Code, which was given an official stamp of approval by RCGP Council in February.

Changes added include more information for GPs working in the Armed Forces and in controlled environments, more on the extra responsibilities that doctors can hold as ‘data controllers’, and more tips and advice on communicating with the public and with colleagues.

Whilst primarily aimed at healthcare professionals, the comprehensive and common-sense Code is transferable to other professional spheres. There has been interest in adapting the content for education professionals, with the potential to extend this to legal and political spheres and other professions where ethics and client safety are paramount.

The co-authors of the Code – enthusiastic Twitter users Dr Ben Riley [@drbenriley] and Dr Clare Gerada [@clarercgp] – will be participating in a lunchtime Twitter debate on Friday 22nd March. The discussion will cover how social media effects healthcare professionals and patients, and how the benefits could be rolled out to wider society. They invite anyone with an interest in social media and healthcare to take part using the Twitter hashtag #RCGPSoMe.

Dr Riley, lead-author of the Code and Curriculum Director for the RCGP said: “The interest and feedback we have received from healthcare professionals across the globe has been fantastic. There are many opportunities for GPs and other healthcare professionals to take the lead in developing how social media can be used to improve healthcare. At the same time healthcare professionals need to protect their patients and support each other with using these new ways of communicating. The Code has a practical focus and addresses a number of the challenging areas that GPs and other healthcare professionals have been asking about for some time.”

Dr Gerada, Chair of the RCGP said: “I am proud to lead a College that consistently puts patient care at the heart of what we do. We were the first Medical Royal College to have an active patient group, the first to trend in the UK on Twitter, and now we are the first to produce positive, practical guidance on Social Media usage in order to protect the interests of both patients and healthcare professionals.”

Harvey Ward, Chair of the RCGP Patient Partnership Group said: “The 1931 Highway Code was created to ‘educate all road users about their duties and obligations to each other and the whole community’ and similarly the College’s 2013 Social Media Highway Code can be described as ‘a code of good manners to be observed by all courteous and considerate persons’.

“Using the Code’s advice, social media offers great potential benefits to all patients and hard to reach groups by, for example, improving access to information about healthcare services. Additionally, the Code is a wonderful step in the right direction for heightening patient safety online, where some patients can be vulnerable.”

Dr James Quekett from said: “The Code is about helping individuals navigate social media and attempts to highlight where doctors need to exercise caution based on past experience. It is not about imposing rules on their online behaviour.”


The RCGP Social Media Highway Code can be found here-

RCGP Press office-  [email protected]