September 21, 2015

The College recognizes the growing use of social media and online networking platforms on the part of health care professionals as a means to communicate both personally and professionally. Common examples of social media and online networking platforms include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

The use of social media and online networking forums raises professional and ethical considerations for registrants. Registrants should treat social media and online networking platforms as virtual public spaces potentially accessible by the public.

All registrants should understand that there are professional responsibilities involved with using social media and online networking platforms relating to professional boundaries, the parameters of professional distance, professional conduct, and protection of patient privacy. The College requires registrants to comply with the requirements of the College bylaws (including the Code of Ethics) and privacy legislation when engaging in social media and online networking platforms. Registrants are also responsible for the actions of their staff to ensure that these requirements are met when dealing with patient information.

Privacy & Security Settings:
Registrants are advised to read, understand, and use strict privacy and security settings to maintain control over access to their personal information.

Patient Privacy:
Registrants must protect their patients’ right to privacy in accordance with  requirements of College bylaws and privacy legislation. Registrants must not disclose any patient information online without the patient’s express consent. Even where personal identifiers have been removed, it is still sometimes possible to identify a patient through a description of the patient’s condition.

Respect Patient Privacy:
Registrants should refrain from seeking out personal information about a patient online. Be aware that doing so could negatively impact the therapeutic relationship between patient and registrant, and in some cases, may trigger a duty to act.

Be Professional:
Registrants must maintain a professional demeanour when using social media in both a personal and a professional capacity. Registrants should exercise restraint when disclosing their personal information on social media and online networking forums. They should be proactive to remove any information about themselves that could be construed as unprofessional or that would otherwise adversely affect the honour, dignity and credibility of the profession.

Personal vs. Professional Accounts:
Registrants are advised to maintain a separation between their professional and personal social media and online networking accounts. It is advisable to use a pseudonym or privacy settings to ensure that personal accounts are not easily “searchable” by patients.

Professional Boundaries:
Registrants must maintain professional boundaries with patients. They must be careful to prevent patients from developing online friendships with them. They must not use personal accounts to “friend” patients or otherwise initiate an invitation to patients or patients’ family members to be online friends. Registrants must carefully consider invitations from patients to become an online friend.

Providing Advice:
Patient specific optometric advice should not be provided online. Registrants must be careful when identifying themselves as an optometrist online so as not to lead the public to believe they are being provided with patient specific advice. Any optometric advice provided online should be to the public generally, and not to an individual.

Advertising & Marketing:
Registrants should recognize that the restrictions in Part 11 (Advertising and Marketing) of the College bylaws apply equally to any advertising or marketing conducted through social medial and online networking platforms.

Permanent Record:
Registrants are advised that once information appears online, it becomes part of a permanent online record. Online information can usually be traced back to its author.

Public Information:
For the purposes of this policy, the College considers all information posted online to be public information.