Social Media and the APTA: Is Regulation Really Necessary?

Social Media and the APTA:  Is Regulation Really Necessary?

Earlier this summer a group of APTA delegates from Washington proposed RC 23-12, a motion that aims to address standards of conduct in the use of social media. The motion was passed by the 2012 House of Delegates last month, quietly and with little fuss. Well quietly for the most part. The motion has spurred some intense discussion among an ever-growing group of therapy professionals who use social media to promote their profession, discuss and debate industry topics and educate patients. Their conclusion is that, while the motion itself is fairly harmless, it is unnecessary.

What Does RC23 Actually Say?

The idea behind RC23 is to set a standard of conduct for Physical Therapists specifically for the use of social media. UPDATE: Thank you to Jason Bellamy at the APTA for providing me with the final draft the motion passed by the 2012 House of Delegates and scheduled to become official policy when the minutes of the house meeting are approved.

Whereas, social media creates opportunities to communicate in a public forum;
Whereas, Physical therapists (PT), physical therapist assistants (PTA) and physical therapy students (students) must be knowledgeable and respectful of the principles of patient/client privacy and confidentiality in safeguarding identifiable patient/client information as it relates to social media;
Whereas, PTs, PTAs, and students who use social media should represent their own views and be professional and accurate in their communications;
Whereas, errors and omissions in communication, harassing statements, and unprofessional language presented via social media may have a long-lasting and possibly negative impact on the individual or the physical therapy profession;
Whereas, PTs, PTAs, and students shall consider when and how to separate their personal and professional lives on social media; and,
Whereas, PTs, PTAs, and students should be knowledgeable about employers’, educational institutions’, or clinical training sites’ published policies on social media;
Resolved, Physical therapists (PT), physical therapist assistants (PTA) and physical therapy students (students) shall consider whether to interact with patients on social media or create separate personal and professional social media profiles;
Resolved, PTs, PTAs, and students shall not misrepresent when they are speaking for themselves or the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), other organizations, educational institutions, clinical sites, or employers;
Resolved, if an individual identifies content posted to social media by a colleague that appears unprofessional, s/he has a responsibility to bring that to the attention of the individual who has posted the content so that he/she can remove it or take other appropriate action; and,
Resolved, PTs, PTAs, and students engaging in social media activities shall demonstrate appropriate conduct in accordance with the Code of Ethics for the Physical Therapist and Standards of Ethical Conduct for the Physical Therapist Assistant.

What it essentially boils down to is that professional PTs and PTAs should act professionally on Twitter and Facebook.

It's a very simplistic and reactionary motion spurred by the perception of a shrinking portion of society that social media is only used to share celebrity gossip, pictures of cats and inappropriate conversations. RC23-12 unnecessarily repeats the points made in the Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct where a simple change of wording would have sufficed to cover interaction held online. As one PT put it during an online discussion "Being a professional is being a professional". Specifying the venue shouldn't be necessary.

Social Media is More Than Just @Twitter

In a Google+ discussion hosted by some prominent therapy professionals discussing the first draft of the motion, an important point was brought up; RC23-12 lumps all online interaction under the one label of "Social Media". The language of the motion is geared towards a very narrow selection of social sites, mainly Facebook and Twitter.

Social media is so much more; Sites like LinkedIn, Physiopedia, Google +, Youtube and Skype are all used on a regular basis by professionals the world over. They're becoming almost a necessity for many. These outlets make it easy for a large body of professionals to access important discussions on industry topics, open the door for educational opportunities and serve as an inexpensive and far-reaching platform with which to promote physical therapy and educate current and future patients.

Educate, Don't Regulate

As with any new "gadget" or "gizmo", a lack of education about its uses has resulted in a regulating motion that only reacts to potential pitfalls rather than capturing the opportunities it can create. So what do we do when we don't understand something? We educate ourselves. Social media isn't the Boogie Man. With responsible usage, it is an incredibly powerful resource that is literally at your fingertips. Educating professionals on the how's and why's of social media and networking usage is what is needed. Not smacking those that are already using it (and using it well) on the nose with a new rule.

The world is moving fast and, like it or not, online interaction has become the driving force behind change. Fighting it, ignoring it, or slapping a law on it won't stop this train. It's time to stop running from it. It's time to listen, learn and use it.

This article was written by Amy-Lynn Corey

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