The do's and don'ts of social media: A physician's guide

There are many ways physicians can harness the reach and capabilities of social media to increase patient engagement and debunk medical misinformation, however, having a social media presence comes with its own challenges — particularly for physicians. 

According to data from Statista, more than 5 billion people worldwide used social media in 2024, and that figure is projected to hit 6 billion by 2028. Given that more than half of the world's population uses social media, many physicians have turned to various platforms to advertise themselves and their practices. However, about 55% of physicians told Medscape they have seen other clinicians "behave inappropriately" online, sometimes even leading to them losing their medical license. Physicians have been left to ask themselves if the potential benefits of being on social media are worth the risks involved.

Becker's connected with Samuel Bauer, MD, medical director of quality and digital health and perinatal care at Durham, N.C.-based Duke University to discuss the pros and cons of social media usage among physicians. 

Question: Should physicians be on social media? Why or why not? 

Dr. Samuel Bauer: There are advantages and challenges to utilizing social media by physicians.


1. Education and awareness: Social media platforms offer a vast audience reach, allowing physicians to disseminate accurate medical information to a wide audience quickly. Whether it is debunking health myths, promoting preventive care, or discussing the latest medical research, social media can be a powerful tool for public health education. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare professionals utilized social media to share updates on the virus, vaccine information, and safety guidelines, helping to combat misinformation and promote public health measures.

2. Patient engagement: Social media platforms provide a convenient way for patients to interact with their healthcare providers outside of traditional clinical settings. Patients can ask questions, seek clarification on medical issues, or even schedule appointments through direct messaging or comments. This increased accessibility, engagement and communication can lead to better patient outcomes, improved adherence to treatment plans, and enhanced patient satisfaction. However, physicians must maintain professional boundaries and adhere to confidentiality guidelines to protect patient privacy.

3. Networking and collaboration: Social media facilitates networking and collaboration among healthcare professionals, breaking down geographical barriers and enabling interdisciplinary communication. Platforms like X and LinkedIn allow physicians to connect with peers, participate in medical discussions, and share insights and experiences. This exchange can contribute to professional development, foster innovation, and ultimately improve patient care.

4. Brand building: Establishing a presence on social media allows physicians to showcase their expertise, personality, and values, building trust and credibility with patients and colleagues. By sharing content, engaging with followers, and participating in online discussions, physicians can position themselves as thought leaders in their specialty or area of interest. This visibility can lead to career opportunities, speaking engagements, and collaborations with other healthcare organizations.


1. Privacy concerns: Physicians must be cautious when sharing patient-related information on social media to avoid violating patient confidentiality laws such as HIPAA in the U.S. Even seemingly innocuous details could potentially identify a patient and breach their privacy. It is crucial for physicians to obtain explicit consent from patients before sharing any information about their medical history, diagnosis or treatment on social media.

2. Misinformation: Social media platforms are rife with misinformation, rumors and pseudoscience, making it challenging for users to distinguish fact from fiction. Physicians have a responsibility to ensure that the information they share is accurate, evidence-based and grounded in scientific research. They should critically evaluate sources, cite reputable references and clearly communicate the limitations or uncertainties associated with medical topics to avoid contributing to the spread of misinformation.

3. Time and professional boundaries: Managing a presence on social media can be time-consuming, requiring regular posting, engagement with followers and monitoring of discussions. Physicians must strike a balance between their professional obligations and their online presence, setting boundaries to prevent burnout and maintain work-life balance. It is essential to allocate dedicated time for social media activities while prioritizing patient care and other professional responsibilities.

4. Legal and regulatory risks: Physicians need to be aware of the legal and regulatory risks associated with social media use, including professional conduct standards, advertising regulations, and potential liability for patient harm or privacy breaches. They should familiarize themselves with professional guidelines and codes of ethics governing social media use in healthcare and exercise caution when discussing medical topics or providing advice online. Additionally, physicians should be mindful of the potential impact of their social media activity on their professional reputation and employ discretion and professionalism in their online interactions.

While social media can offer numerous benefits for physicians, including education, patient engagement, networking and brand building, it also presents challenges such as privacy concerns, misinformation, time management and legal risks. By navigating these challenges thoughtfully and responsibly, physicians can leverage social media as a valuable tool to enhance patient care, professional development and public health efforts.

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