There has been a dramatic increase in the number of fitness to practice investigations conducted by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC).
In 2015/16, the General Pharmaceutical Council investigated 1,939 fitness to practice cases – a 20 per cent increase on the 2014/15 caseload.
Just four years ago the GPhC caseload was 523, which means the number of cases has increased by 270 per cent since 2012.
With the vast majority of concerns coming from the public, the increase in fitness to practice cases could be an indication of how the public now views healthcare professionals.
The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) in a recent report suggested that deference towards healthcare professionals had given way to a need for professionals to earn respect from the public, which has become more empowered and demanding.
A number of fitness to practice cases concern allegations relating to social media.
As pharmacy professionals become more confident about using social media, there is an increased risk of complaints being made regarding comments made in the digital space.
In 2013, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society published a social media toolkit, which at the time was the first of its kind in the profession.
The toolkit advises pharmacy professionals to think about what they want to achieve from using social media.
It is important to remember that, generally, as a pharmacy professional, there is no such thing as a personal comment, as all comments made are capable of bringing the profession into disrepute.
The RPS’s guidance advises pharmacy professionals to be aware of employer policies and legislation covering libel, copyright and data protection.
There is also a warning for professionals regarding patient consulting on social media.
It is important to remember that even conversations between fellow professionals can be read by patients and members of the public.
The GPhC published guidance entitled “Demonstrating professionalism online”. This guidance offers the following advice:
• Act professionally
• Treat people with respect
• Maintain confidentiality and privacy at all times
• Maintain proper professional boundaries
• Think before you post, privacy settings do not mean that something will remain private and a statement that these are your own views means little in practice.
• Bully, harass or intimidate
• Unlawfully discriminate
• Post inappropriate comments
• Share information about patients or their care
• Get drawn into negative, unconstructive discussions.
The RPS’s social media toolkit and the GPhC’s guidance are not all doom and gloom.
The RPS encourages pharmacy professionals to use social media to fulfil CPD, to influence sectors of healthcare and to have fun, while the GPhC describes social media as a “powerful” way for pharmacy professionals to collaborate with their peers, colleagues and the general public.
Advice from both bodies is for pharmacy professionals to utilize fully the benefits of social media but, at the same time, recognize the privileged position they hold, so they should think before they post anything.
Put simply: if you have any reservations about making a comment on social media – do not post it.