Blog | Monday, March 26, 2012

QD: News Every Day--Medical boards issue real punishments for online conduct

QD: News Every Day--Medical boards issue real punishments for online conduct
Most U.S. medical licensing authorities have handed down punishments, sometimes severe ones, for unprofessional conduct online, a survey found.

Researchers surveyed the executive directors of all 68 medical and osteopathic boards about violations of online professionalism and subsequent actions taken. This study was done in partnership with the Federation of State Medical Boards (which does not track online violations; hence, the survey).

The research letter was published at the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Directors of 48 boards responded, representing about 88% of the approximately 850,000 physicians in the Federation's database, of whom 44 of 48 (92%) reported receiving at least one online professionalism violation. The most common ones were inappropriate patient communication online, such as sexual misconduct (33 of 48; 69%) for one or more violations); use of the Internet for inappropriate practice, such as online prescribing without an established clinical relationship (30 of 48; 63%); and online misrepresentation of credentials (29 of 48; 60%).

In response, 34 of 48 (71%) of boards held disciplinary proceedings, including formal disciplinary hearings 24 of 48 (50%) and issuing consent orders 19 of 48 (40%). In addition, 19 of 48 (40%) of boards issued informal warnings and 12 of 48 (25%) reported at least one instance in which no action was taken.

Serious disciplinary outcomes such as license restriction, suspension or revocation occurred at 27 of 48 (56%) of the boards.

"[T]hese violations also may be important online manifestations of serious and common violations offline, including substance abuse, sexual misconduct, and abuse of prescription privileges," the researchers wrote. "In addition, these incidents are highly problematic in their own right because they reflect poorly on physicians' values to the public."

The history of online misbehavior has been documented before, for example, by 60% of medical students.

ACP issued guidance for online behavior as part of its ethics manual.