SASKATOON -- The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan has given a prescription to doctors on how to use social media.

“The rapid expansion of social media has created opportunities for physicians but has also created risk,” says the guideline, approved at the college’s March council meeting.

Physicians may choose to use social media to increase patient access to general medical information, advocate for patient care, improvements to the system and patient safety, or advocate for the profession, the guideline says.

However, physicians must maintain patient privacy and confidentiality and the appropriate boundaries of a patient-physician relationship.

There are also broad-based expectations of professionalism and physicians must respect copyright laws and other legal obligations.

Associate registrar Bryan Salte said that since physicians identify as such to add credibility to their statements on social media, they are held to a higher standard.

A physician has been disciplined in the past for breaching patient confidentiality on social media, he said.

The guideline warns doctors that an unnamed patient may be identifiable through minimal information such as where they live and a general description of condition - even in a private online forum.

If expressing an opinion related to medical issues, physicians should accurately describe their credentials as relevant to the opinion expressed.

Physicians may also want to consider establishing a separate personal and professional social media presence.