Study finds personal profiles can have professional implications

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Stories of risqué Facebook photos torpedoing a job applicant's prospects have been commonplace with the explosion of social networking sites. A recent survey of the licensing boards which cover the licensure of about 88% of US physicians, however, indicates that what doctors do online after landing a job is just as important.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, sought to gauge what behaviors counted as professional breaches of conduct and what, if any, could trigger disciplinary actions. The take-away: professional and personal profiles and social interactions should be aligned.

Among the researchers' findings: making misleading claims, whether about board certification or a treatment's potential, could trigger an investigation, as would using a patient interaction as a segue into flirtatious personal communications on a third-party dating site (example: “We don't need to wait for your follow-up appointment . . . what are you doing this weekend?").

Almost 50% of respondents said those actions were “very likely” to trip an investigation, and almost 40% said it was “likely” there would be some sort of recourse.

Researchers said that finding out where licensors stand is a significant starting point for understanding where greater consensus is needed in terms of what constitutes appropriate or inappropriate behavior and note that the concern goes beyond a possible board investigation. The researchers said reverberations from unprofessional online behavior could include termination of hospital privileges, job loss, and employer lawsuits for unprofessional conduct or content.

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