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Social Media


The widespread availability of information online, and our easy ability to access and share this information through mobile devices means that social media has changed how we communicate with each other.

The dental profession has not been spared from this development, with many dentists and patients using social media for communicating with colleagues and patients, gaining access to or disseminating health-related information and for social networking.


Social media is defined in the Cambridge dictionary as “websites and computer programs that allow people to communicate and share information on the internet using a computer or mobile phone”. These include sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

All have a number of characteristics in common. These include:

  • Rapid communication with a large audience;
  • Anyone can post anything, but once posted it is almost impossible to remove;
  • All postings are open to others to view;
  • A widespread, but unknown audience;
  • Electronic data can be manipulated, altered and shared without knowledge of the original

It is these features that carry some ethical, legal and professional challenges


Personal Facebook pages can reveal a detailed account of someone’s personal life. For dentists this ‘online persona’ can adversely impact on patient trust.

For example, it is easy to see that patients might question a dentist’s professional competency if they were to find online embarrassing photographs of their dentist, such as being drunk or involved with some sort of high jinks.

Other material that would be considered inappropriate or unprofessional if posted would be use of drugs, crime, nudity, sexual content or innuendo, patient information and criticism of others.

Because the distribution capacity of social media is so fast and global, any lapses of professionalism captured online can negatively affect your professional reputation.

From the Dental Board’s point of view, it would also reflect badly on the profession as a whole, calling into doubt the trust that exists in the profession of dentistry.

Therefore, be circumspect about the content you create and post online in order to ensure that you do not skew patients’ perceptions of dentistry or the level of care they expect to be provided with.


Dentists who allow patients access to their personal information online (by either accepting a patient’s request to connect, or extending a request to connect to a patient) may risk a variety of repercussions if patients view this information.

There is a risk, that of blurring the boundaries between a dentist’s personal and professional life, which may complicate or change the nature of the relationship between a dentist and patient.

By interacting with patients online, you may expose yourself to scrutiny of your personal life. Facebook profiles can feature some highly personal information, such as photographs, details of friends and family in your network and comments both written and received from others. A patient’s access to your personal information could undermine the dentist-patient relationship.

Another thing to bear in mind is that once you have ‘connected’ to a patient, your patient may start receiving a lot of ‘friend suggestions’ for people they don’t know those other people in your network, who might also be patients. It means that patients could potentially see each other’s names.

Difficult ethical issues could also arise if you become party to information about your patient that was not disclosed as part of a clinical consultation. You might see, for example, a photo of your patient smoking when he or she has denied being a smoker. Uncovering content that was not intended for you could have implications for patient care.

It is recommended that you politely decline any friend requests from patients on Facebook, to avoid the risk of blurring boundaries. You could send a polite message to the patient, or should the matter be raised in a later consultation, just politely explain that you cannot ‘friend’ your patients because of the importance of maintaining a strictly professional relationship.


It is also important to consider patient confidentiality in a social media world, particularly in terms of photographs and videos that are uploaded.

You must be aware that the usual standards of patient privacy and confidentiality apply online, and refrain from posting identifiable patient information online.

Clinical images are “health information” and must be treated with the same privacy and confidentiality as any other health record or information.


They should only be taken with appropriate consent, stored securely, and only disclosed in accordance with the consent given, or if there is a legal obligation to do so.

Using clinical images for any purpose other than that for which consent has been obtained, or sharing them in a non-professional context, is inappropriate and risks you being the subject of a complaint to AHPRA or legal action.


It can be expected that complaints about how dentists use social media will feature increasingly in disciplinary cases investigated by the Dental Board.


  • Pause and reflect before you post a comment or photo in any context.
  • The content should be scrutinised in terms of appropriateness as well as who may have access to that information. Check and update your security settings.
  • Use common-sense and do not comment about patients, cases or
  • Politely decline any friend requests from

Enore Panetta – Solicitor

Panetta McGrath Lawyers


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