July 7, 2022

Should doctors’ social media profiles be scrutinised?

The Medical Board of Australia has proposed controversial changes to its Code of Conduct.

Doctors and politicians have slammed proposed changes to the code of conduct of the Medical Board of Australia, alleging that the organisation is attempting to limit freedom of speech.

The Board, which is responsible for licensing doctors and investigating complaints, has just concluded a period of public consultation on revisions to its code of conduct, entitled “Good medical practice: A code of conduct for doctors in Australia”. Among the changes are significant revisions to the document’s professionalism section. On matters such as social media usage, the revised document states:

If making public comment, you should acknowledge the profession’s generally accepted views and indicate when your personal opinion differs. Behaviour which could undermine community trust in the profession is at odds with good medical practice and may be considered unprofessional.

The Australian Medical Association fears that the proposed changes will silence dissenting opinion. AMA president Tony Bartone said that the changes risked “stifling doctors’ right to publicly express both personal and professional opinions while also undermining doctors’ contribution to the diversity of public opinion, debate, and discourse”.

“Many doctors don’t personally agree with abortion, contraception or voluntary assisted dying”, Dr Bartone said. “Just because a doctor does not hold ‘the profession’s generally accepted views’ on a particular social matter does not indicate a lack of medical professionalism or substandard medical practice”.

The proposed changes are said to relate to an investigation currently underway into the social media statements of Australian doctor and political activist David Van Gend. Dr Van Gend is being investigated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency for “discriminatory conduct” after retweeting material critical of the transgender lobby and same-sex marriage.

Should doctors’ social media profiles be scrutinised?
Xavier Symons
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