The world has been clearly divided into the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic eras. The post-pandemic era is the one where lockdowns created a need to seek help online. Right from grocery orders to seeking medical advice from doctors.
Every doctor that was internet-savvy and wanted to help his fellow citizens knew that he had to onboard the internet and social media wagon to contribute his share. To top it off, an intensified FOMO pushed the doctors to think about how far they would be left behind in this ‘social media’ rat race when the pandemic would be over.
Adding to their woes was the perception of the people who thought that the doctor with the most ‘likes’, ‘comments’ or ‘shares’ is the best in his field. It is truly a sad state when the years of training, specialization and practice are not the defining parameters to be recognised as a ‘good doctor’ rather it is his social media presence, likes and comments.
In the post-pandemic era, online consultation became the norm. Apps and websites that rate and ‘list’ down the best doctors based on their social media followers, likes and ratings popped up overnight misleading the people into believing more followers, more likes, better ratings = the best doctor to consult.
To stop the obvious bending of medical ethics and regulations, The National Medical Commission (NMC) has drafted guidelines to be followed by a Registered Medical Practitioner (RMP) to curb the menace of misleading advertisements, unethical testimonials, promotions, and other unethical practices. The ethical guidelines section that has been introduced is called “The conduct of RMPs on social media’ for which the NMC has invited comments from the various stakeholders.
Dr. Kavya Singh, founder of a digital healthcare marketing agency – DocStokes, interpreted the guidelines in simple terms for us to understand. Stating these guidelines are the need of the hour, and terming them as ‘Better late than never’, Dr Kavya Singh says there’s still a lot of room for improvement but ‘is a good place to start’.
The guidelines roughly translate into the following, according to her:
While the RMPs can have and maintain their social media and website, the guidelines indicate that the information put forth by the RMPs should be verifiable and factual, should not be deceptive or misleading, and should not take advantage of patient’s lack of knowledge or vulnerability by keeping a clear distinction between teleconsultation and social media. Although, it should be noted that the NMC has not yet defined what falls under ‘social media’
Keeping the broader principle of medical ethics in mind, the NMC urges doctors to use social media wisely and has proposed the following the below guidelines:
- RMPs can provide information and announcement on social media.
- RMPs should avoid discussing the treatment of patients on public social media or prescribing medicine to patients on the public social media platform. If a patient approaches doctors through public social media, the doctor should guide the patient toward a telemedicine consultation or in-person consultation as the situation warrants.
- RMPs should not post patients’ photographs or scan images (CT/pet scans) on social media. Once an image is posted on social media, it becomes data that is owned by the social media company or the general public.
- RMPs should not request or share patients’ ‘testimonials or recommendations or endorsements or reviews’ on social media.
- RMPs should refrain from sharing images of healed/cured patients, surgery/procedure videos or images displaying impressive results under any circumstances.
- RMP is allowed to share educative material for the information of the general public. However, communication should be limited to the expertise of the RMP.
- RMP’s webpage should also follow the same guidelines as above
- RMPs should not indulge in the act of purchasing ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ for their social media. They should not pay money to be listed on top of search results (based on search algorithm behaviours). They should not register with software programs (apps) that charge fees for higher ratings or soliciting patients.
- On social media, the RMPs should behave in accordance with the medical ethics on professional behaviour towards their colleagues.
In the wake of these proposed guidelines, it has become even more crucial for the RMPs to not give in to the pressure of social media. Seeking help from random digital agencies or freelancers may seem tempting and cost-effective but one should be mindful of the fact that these agencies/individuals are not aware of the medical ethics code and regulations which might lead to troubles in the future.
Choosing the right digital marketing partner who understands the nuances of these guidelines like only a doctor can, is the first step in the right direction. Docstokes is the only healthcare digital marketing agency that is run by a doctor, Dr Kavya Singh. She, being a doctor, understands what could be construed as ethical or unethical marketing practices.
P.S.: you can refer to the NMC guidelines here