Going social in the APTA House of Delegates: RC 23-12

Next week, the American Physical Therapy Association House of Delegates will convene for the 2012 session.  This year’s House will discuss and vote on a number of motions, but – as a self-proclaimed social media junkie – one motion in particular has caught my attention.  The motion, introduced by the Washington Chapter, is known as RC 23-12 and proposes to set standards of conduct for physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and physical therapy students who use social media.  The exact language of the motion is as follows:


Whereas, Physical therapists (PT), physical therapist assistants (PTA) and physical therapy students (students) must be knowledgeable regarding the principles of patient/client privacy, confidentiality and identifiable patient/client information as it relates to social media;

Whereas, PTs, PTAs, and students should use privacy settings to safeguard personal information. PTs, PTAs and students should monitor their social media presence to make certain that the information on their own pages and content posted about them is in concert with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Code of Ethics for the Physical Therapist and Standards of Ethical Conduct for the Physical Therapist Assistant;

Whereas, PTs, PTAs, and students must be knowledgeable regarding employers’, educational institutions’, or clinical training sites’ published policies on personal social media sites;

Whereas, To uphold appropriate boundaries, PTs, PTAs, and students should consider having separate personal accounts;

Whereas, If a PT, PTA, or student sees content posted by a colleague that appears unprofessional, s/he has a responsibility to bring that content to the attention of the individual, so that the individual can remove or modify the content; and,

Whereas, PTs, PTAs and students can be held personally and legally responsible for their publicly made opinions and comments, even on personally maintained sites and pages;

Resolved, That physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and physical therapy students should demonstrate appropriate conduct in social media activities.

SS: Physical therapists (PT), physical therapist assistants (PTA), and students are using social media for professional/work/educational purposes, as well as personal interactions. The overlap creates potential conflicts in patient/client management. PTs, PTAs and students must understand that their online actions and content may negatively impact their reputation among patients/clients and colleagues, impact their careers and undermine trust in the profession of physical therapy. Conduct is defined as a verb to behave or manage (oneself); or to direct in action or course; manage. The PT, PTA and student must use appropriate conduct in the use of social media as the professional team. Currently, there are no APTA guidelines available for social media. APTA members are required to maintain patient privacy by following APTA’s Code of Ethics for the Physical Therapist and Standards of Ethical Conduct for the Physical Therapist Assistant, their respective state practice acts, and HIPAA rules at all time, including social media.

Whether you are an APTA member or not (you should be, join here), this motion could have significant implications for those of us who are already using social media, as well as those who may consider communicating using social media in the future.  What are your thoughts?  Is it time for the APTA to formally address professional use of social media?  Does this motion fairly and accurately describe social media and its uses?  If you do not support RC 23-12 as written, what are your suggestions to amend this motion?  What would you add?  What would you remove?

I urge you to share your thoughts on RC 23-12 in the comments below, join the #RC23 conversation on Twitter, and contact your state APTA delegate(s) to let them know how you feel about RC 23-12.  As a Delegate for the Kansas Chapter, I plan to be a vocal participant in this discussion, and I will share your thoughts at the House.  There will be no better way for me to illustrate the power of social media at the House of Delegates than by citing our very own social media discussions of RC 23-12.

Make your voice heard.  Together, we can shape the future of our profession – one status update, tweet, post, or comment at a time.

[icon style=”notice”]Update: A lively Google+ Hangout and Twitter conversation on the #RC23 hashtag has been taking place.[/icon]

RC23-12 Discussion on Google+

Summary of #RC23 discussion on Twitter via Storify.

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Kendra Gagnon is a new contributor to PT Think Tank. A pediatric specialist, she’s on faculty at the University of Kansas Medical Center and shares a common interest among PT Think Tank writers: she is a “self-proclaimed social media “junkie”, and uses technology and social media in the classroom to engage students and prepare them for using these technologies in the professional world.”

She blogs at Kendra Ped PT.

20 Replies to “Going social in the APTA House of Delegates: RC 23-12”

  1. I definitely understand and respect the APTA’s push to address and define best practices in social media. Unfortunately, it always appears to me that when big organizations take on social media, policies are focused on being well behaved and the potential negative ramifications. Instead, shouldn’t we also focus on the potentially powerful benefits to colleagues, professional growth, patients, and public health?? I discussed this in a previous post: http://ptthinktank.com/2012/01/29/leveraging-technology-vi-case-example-acl-injury-prevention/

    Shouldn’t online behavior be guided by the global code of ethics?
    Further, shouldn’t we focus on simple, safe, and value focused guidelines?

    Absolutely, we must address it. But, I would hate to see policy be restricting. Educate students, engage students, and PRACTICE. Same is true of clinicians new to social media.

    Two nice discussions on physicians presence on twitter:

    Mike Pascoe shared this information with me. It is from the Mayo Clinic, and I think they have right:

    1. Kyle – I totally agree. I think it is positive that APTA membership wants to recognize and address social media. However, the first thing that struck me about RC 23-12 was the negative tone. It addresses social media from a risk management perspective, but doesn’t acknowledge the opportunities social media provides for networking, learning, connecting, and sharing. Thanks also to you and Mike for sharing the Mayo Clinic info. In my opinion, they are the best out there when it comes to health care social media.

  2. Does not HIPAA cover this “patient/client privacy, confidentiality and identifiable patient/client information as it relates to social media”

    “PTs, PTAs and students must understand that their online actions and content may negatively impact their reputation among patients/clients and colleagues, impact their careers and undermine trust in the profession of physical therapy.”

    The question is we must understand but should we be told. The latter seems to be the motive of the WA chapter of the APTA. Whom decides what is appropriate or not, professional vs unprofessional? That is a slippery pig to catch. What if we were to criticize the APTA, is that professional or am I being unprofessional?

    1. Agree that the vague language (“professional” and “appropriate”) are problematic. What does that mean? Who decides?

      How would you amend the RC to make it better?

  3. There is no need to Change or Amend this because it shouldnt pass. We have a Code of Ethics. We are ALL professionals and with that comes a responsibility to BE a professional. If you do NOT understand that part then a “over regulated policy” will do nothing to keep you in check……..

  4. I mentioned to Eric Roberston (on Twitter) that we should be guided by HPA’s phrase “Lead wherever you are”. Online or offline, we should be guided by our Code of Ethics. The tools and technology change all the time. I agree that the succinct 12-word policy from Mayo is clear, but do we even need that? I agree with Kyle that the writing a “Standards of Conduct” policy for the rare negative potential of social media is misguided. It misses the enormous upside potential. Think of how much we could accomplish as a profession if we fully embraced the power of social media tools for building a platform to share the positive impact of PT. I mean, never has it been easier to connect with so many people and influence a “tribe”. Shouldn’t we spend our energy maximizing that potential? So, as a “moderation” RC, I too am opposed to RC23. What I helped do with an RC about Electronic Health Records (that turned into HOD P06-08-13-11) is craft a positive Position Statement supporting their use. Do we need “Position Statement” RC promoting effective use of social media in PT? Probably not. But, I think it would be more helpful than this.

  5. I think vague language is better.

    Paint your social media policy with a broad brush – let people decide for themselves what is “appropriate conduct” for physical therapists.

    Do you want to micro-manage online behavior?

    We have enough regulation in PT.

    History shows when you regulate with too fine a line people tend to push right up to that line – and sometimes beyond it.

    Tim Richardson, PT

  6. As many said last night during the #solvePT discussion, it is very difficult to measure professionalism. Eric @kintegrate is right that HIPAA already exists to protect client privacy and we are already practicing under a code of ethics as clinicians.
    The APTA is just censoring as the NBA does it’s players to limit any negative portrayal of its image. We all know some “professionals” are allergic to honesty, morals and ethical behavior. Some take the freedom of speech act too far. Some believe that what they do after hours is not the APTA’s business, however, as unfortunate as this is in reality, people can judge a group based on the actions and behavior of one individual.
    Although I applaud the initiative to censor, RC 23-12 is the perfect example of overgeneralization. The APTA cannot continue to believe that if one bad thing happens, then everything else is doomed to go poorly or be negative.
    I have chosen to perceive the use of social media by professionals differently. I refuse to focus on what is wrong about professionals using social media and simply focus on what is right and good for my business and my profession. This is a free means of marketing and to get word out to potential clients, to get the public aware of what we really do and to share information amongst clinicians.

  7. Medicine has been forward-thinking on this hot topic for sometime. Here are few starting points for others to consider that we share with our students.
    In short, faculty and practitioners should understand that there are benefits and risks out there in cyberspace.
    See, the American College of Physicians Ethics manual.
    On, pg. 81 in the ACP ethic manual does start to address it. We need research in this area in PT. But, again, it sure is about time for our profession! Let’s move forward.
    Alan Chong W. Lee

  8. Nothing earth-shattering in this motion. Our ethical and professional standards need to be upheld through every channel in which we communicate – electronic channels not excluded.

    The importance of the motion is really in the comment thread that’s followed – it’s important for leaders within our profession to discuss and be aware that our reach is FAR GREATER when using electronic means such as social media, as compared with traditional channels. Opinions carry further and damage can be done quicker and for this reason we need to pay social media the attention that it deserves. Harnessing social media for the benefit of our profession and patients requires strategy and education, and if there is a benefit to RC 23-12, it is in the acknowledgement of this.

    Generally speaking, I’m not in favor of over-regulating areas that can otherwise be sorted out through private means, but social media is a sleeping giant, often unknowingly abused, and if not reigned in by some means (education, policy, etc.), my fear is that it can more easily do harm than good.

    As long as it’s not outright restrictive, and the language provides for guidance and interpretation, I’m for it.


  9. As a Colorado delegate to HOD, I want to thank everyone for their comments. One of the best things about RCs, whether they pass or not, is that they can frequently help engage PTs/APTA members in discussions that may otherwise not happen. I love that social media is providing another forum for these discussions.

    In general, I find RC#23 to be a bit negative in tone, and not they necessary for guiding the next phase of growth in social media use. Individual uses will always be out ahead of organizations, and frankly I have not seen much unprofessional conduct by PTs in the PT discussions I have read online. Therefore, although I look forward to the HOD discussions, I will not support the #RC23 as currently written.

    1. Thanks for chiming in Tim, I was wondering what the CO delegation was thinking as I see several other states give their feedback. What if the PT community wrote and submitted their own written draft? Something put together collaboratively using a Wiki platform? I’m not familiar with the RC process but will be watching to see where it goes.

  10. RC23 has a definite negative connotation and seems like over regulation of our personal lives. HIPPA protects patients rights, and if someone does something illegal on social media they can be prosecuted. We already practice (or will practice) under a code of ethics that can deal with these situations as they arise. I have yet to come across an unprofessional PT, PTA, or PT student online. So in my opinion RC23 is unnecessary and may have a negative impact on membership in an organization that is already struggling to recruit members. Instead of focusing on regulating social media, APTA should be focusing on ways to educate the public about who we are and what we do. We need to focus more on advertising to the general public. How will they know we are being unethical or unprofessional if they don’t even know what we do?

    “Knowing is half the battle”

  11. I agree that RC23 has a negative tone. It is negative in that those representing some of us felt that we need to be policed and managed. Do we need to be told to separate our personal and professional twitter/FB… etc accounts? By virtue of instructing so many PTs, most of my friends on FB are PTs, there are happy posts all the time, of “helped a patient today”! Should they create a professional page for that? What about a banker posting they had a bad day at work?

    Some of the biggest bloggers only seem to use their FB accounts to post links and PT related info, and that’s up to them. I can attest it is hard work maintaining several different sites/accounts.

    I agree with Eric, HIPAA and our own code of ethics should cover us, in SM and all interactions. Just in case, I do have a SM rider on my coverage, mainly since I blog and use SM so much, and give treatment options, clinical decision making options, and educational info.

  12. The over-all negative tone in RC23-12 really reminds me of the panel at #CSM2012 “Social Media in Healthcare is Here to Stay: Ethical and Legal Considerations” given by two experts (Kyle Hewson & Alex Lopez), which do not appear to have social media accounts themselves.

    Here is a transcript of my live blogging coverage of the panel – http://tinyurl.com/74qodyy – I only got 1 hr and 20 min into the panel before my laptop battery died 🙁

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