Ethical Standards for Cardiothoracic Surgeons Using Social Media

The ease of use, ability to connect globally in real-time and asynchronously, and the increasing popularity of social media promise benefits but also pose dangers in caring for patients. Reaffirming the principles of professionalism in the digital era entails both a personal commitment to professional standards, as well as collective efforts by specialties such as cardiothoracic surgery, including its trainees, and the medical profession as a whole, aiming to benefit individual patients and society.

  1. Cardiothoracic surgeons must be guided by the foundational principle of medical ethics—holding the welfare of the patient as paramount—in all interactions, in person and online.
  2. Protecting patient confidentiality and privacy in all communication environments requires surgeons to be sensitive and vigilant.
  3. All posted information should be considered permanent, even when modified or deleted.
  4. Cardiothoracic surgeons are responsible for the accuracy of all electronic content relating to their personal and professional activities that they disseminate or have disseminated on their behalf, including information about them posted by their employers. They are also responsible for actively monitoring electronic content relating to their personal and professional activities that is disseminated by third parties without their involvement, and for taking prompt action to correct false, misleading, or other inappropriate content about which they subsequently become aware.
  5. When interacting with patients online, cardiothoracic surgeons must maintain appropriate personal and professional boundaries.
  6. Cardiothoracic surgeons should not use unprofessional language such as insults and innuendos when engaging in public discussion or debate on social media.
  7. When unprofessional content is posted by other health professionals, cardiothoracic surgeons should approach that individual regarding the content in question and request corrective action. If such action is requested and not taken, the cardiothoracic surgeon should report the unprofessional behavior to the appropriate supervisory or governing entity and professional society.
  8. When a medical error has occurred, the cardiothoracic surgeon is obligated to disclose the relevant information in person to the patient or patient’s representative; additional discussion online should be strongly discouraged and carried out only with the patient’s consent and appropriate legal safeguards.
  9. The use of pseudonyms is acceptable when durable medical information is posted online, only when such use is not misleading or deceptive; cardiothoracic surgeons must ensure that pseudonyms readily allow identification of the surgeon when posting medically relevant information online that may be accessed by past, present, or future patients.
  10. Physicians using social media to recruit for medical research projects must take precautions and adhere to IRB stipulations to ensure the protection of vulnerable patient populations.


Approved:  March 6, 2019 (STS Executive Committee)