Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research®

, Volume 470, Issue 5, pp 1386–1392 | Cite as

Online Professional Networks for Physicians: Risk Management

  • Jon L. HymanEmail author
  • Howard J. Luks
  • Randale Sechrest
Symposium: Evolving Medicolegal Concepts



The rapidly developing array of online physician-only communities represents a potential extraordinary advance in the availability of educational and informational resources to physicians. These online communities provide physicians with a new range of controls over the information they process, but use of this social media technology carries some risk.


The purpose of this review was to help physicians manage the risks of online professional networking and discuss the potential benefits that may come with such networks. This article explores the risks and benefits of physicians engaging in online professional networking with peers and provides suggestions on risk management.


Through an Internet search and literature review, we scrutinized available case law, federal regulatory code, and guidelines of conduct from professional organizations and consultants. We reviewed the site as a case example because it is currently the only online social network exclusively for orthopaedic surgeons.


Existing case law suggests potential liability for orthopaedic surgeons who engage with patients on openly accessible social network platforms. Current society guidelines in both the United States and Britain provide sensible rules that may mitigate such risks. However, the overall lack of a strong body of legal opinions, government regulations as well as practical experience for most surgeons limit the suitability of such platforms. Closed platforms that are restricted to validated orthopaedic surgeons may limit these downside risks and hence allow surgeons to collaborate with one another both as clinicians and practice owners.


Educating surgeons about the pros and cons of participating in these networking platforms is helping them more astutely manage risks and optimize benefits. This evolving online environment of professional interaction is one of few precedents, but the application of risk management strategies that physicians use in daily practice carries over into the online community. This participation should foster ongoing dialogue as new guidelines emerge. This will allow today’s orthopaedic surgeon to feel more comfortable with online professional networks and better understand how to make an informed decision regarding their proper use.


Social Media Orthopaedic Surgeon Social Networking Site Online Social Network Improve Patient Care 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We acknowledge Christina Kirkland and Aman Shah for their invaluable assistance in the preparation of the manuscript.


  1. 1.
    Amednews: Anonymous Posts: Liberating or Unprofessional? July 11, 2011. Available at: Accessed September 21, 2011.
  2. 2.
    Amednews: Patients Social Media Use Raises Practical Issues for Doctors. March 28, 2011. Available at: Accessed September 21, 2011.
  3. 3.
    47 U.S.C. § 230.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    American Medical Association. AMA Policy: Professionalism in the Use of Social Media. Available at: Accessed June 11, 2011.
  5. 5.
    American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-5.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bowman D. 6 Physician Social Networks at a Glance. Available at: Accessed September 21, 2011.
  7. 7.
    British Medical Association. Using Social Media: Practical and Ethical Guidelines for Doctors and Medical Students. March 2011. Available at: Accessed November 21, 2011.
  8. 8.
    Chretien KC, Azar J, Kind T. Physicians on Twitter. JAMA. 2011;305:566–568.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Darves B. Social Media and Physicians. March 2010. Available at: Accessed September 21, 2011.
  10. 10.
    Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-19.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-19 § 1171 Individually Identifiable Health Information.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Lewis P. 86% of Physicians Use Internet to Access Healthcare Information. American Medical News. January 4, 2010. Available at: Accessed June 14, 2011.
  13. 13.
    Massachusetts Medical Society. Are Thin Walls a HIPAA Violation? Available at: Accessed June 17, 2011.
  14. 14.
    Ohio State Medical Association; Social Networking and the Medical Practice: Guidelines for Physicians, Office Staff, and Patients. Available at:…a…/social-media-policy.pdf . Accessed May 25, 2011.
  15. 15.
    PEW Internet. Social Networking Sites and Out Lives. Available at: Accessed June 19, 2011.
  16. 16.
    Sheehan KB. Online research methodology: reflections and speculations. J Interact Adverti. 2002;3(1). Retrieved November 21, 2011 from
  17. 17.
    Spallek H, O’Donnell J, Clayton MD, Anderson P, Krueger A. Emerging implications of web 2.0 for clinical practice. Appl Clin Inf. 2010;1:96–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons® 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jon L. Hyman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Howard J. Luks
    • 2
  • Randale Sechrest
    • 3
  1. 1.SmyrnaUSA
  2. 2.New York Medical CollegeValhallaUSA
  3. 3.Medical Multimedia Group, LLCMissoulaUSA

Personalised recommendations