Is social media contributing to medical unprofessionalism?

Medical professionals should treat their patients with respect. However, some may post content online that can embarrass patients and violate their privacy.

When people go to the doctor's office or hospital in Pennsylvania, they expect a high level of professionalism by the medical staff. In fact, it is required of medical professionals to treat their patients with dignity and respect, as well as to give them the highest quality of care they are able. Unfortunately, some doctors, nurses, students and others in the medical field behave less than ethically on the job, which may cause emotional or physical harm to those under their care.

Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, provide numerous opportunities for people to share their photos and experiences. This is usually not a harmful practice for those who are careful about what they post online or gain consent from others before snapping a picture. It is a different story when those who are expected to maintain higher standards fail to act conscientiously on social media.

Paramedics criminally charged after taking unauthorized selfies with patients

In one instance, two paramedics faced criminal charges after taking "selfies" with numerous patients in their ambulances in what appeared to be a contest to see who could take get the most shocking or sensational shot. Reportedly, the photographs involved more than 40 patients, only three of whom appeared to have given consent to be in the pictures. Most patients appeared to have been anesthetized or unconscious when the photographs were taken, with some of the photos being overly revealing of patients' body parts or injuries.

Understandably, this could cause embarrassment or outrage if the patients or their families discovered the photos had been taken without permission. Both paramedics were charged with felony counts of interception, and one faced an additional charge of misdemeanor battery.

Medical staff expected to act on a higher level

According to the American Medical Association, doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical professionals are expected to abide by strict codes of professional behavior. These include meeting a high standard of care, not knowingly harming or abusing patients and being honest in their conduct. These codes are violated when photographs and other content containing sensitive and identifying information is posted online or saved to phones and other devices without the patients' consent.

Some people may not realize the potential damage if compromising pictures are shared with others or posted online. They may reason that no physical harm was done, therefore they did not mistreat their patients. However, the embarrassment or shame can cause long-lasting anxiety, pain and suffering, in addition to a breach of trust in the medical community when private content is shared without consent. Victims of this type of medical misconduct are entitled to seek compensation.