As doctors and health professionals take to public spaces like Twitter and Facebook to curate and create we face new challenges. One of the challenges is how to disclose our relationship to the organizations and products. How do we disclose conflict of interest in so many different kinds of venues?
This is an issue for doctors who have growing platforms that bring influence and attention. With influence comes interest from those with money to spend and a message to send. Patients trust that we as providers will be watching the ball. Institutions will demand it.
Here are some of the challenges to disclosure that I see:
For doctors with financial ties to industry, disclosure on platforms with limited space present a challenge. Traditional media allowed plenty of elbow room for disclosure of conflict. But when you’ve only got 140 characters how do to you describe your relationship?
There’s been a lot of discussion surrounding the use of bitly links and ‘standard’ hashtags. More often I’ve seen the creation of cryptic hashtags that while intended to disclose leave the reader scratching their head. There are no clear standards about how to disclose but it hopefully should be clear to the consumer that you have some financial relationship to the party or product you’re talking about.
Communication at the speed of now
The faster we move the easier it is to forget disclosure. With traditional media we go through a prepublication process that allows for thinking before publishing. Even with blogs there is some opportunity for reflection before hitting publish. But speedy, real-time communication that happens on Twitter creates a challenge. Conversations are part of the public record and it’s easy to forget disclosure when connected in conversation.
Traditionally we have communicated with words. As sharing with mobile technology has become easier, we are communicating sometimes strictly with images. This can create obvious challenges since it’s harder to describe your connection to a product or service with a picture. Instagram has a free text field that, if it’s used, should allow for clear disclosure
The problem of the veiled disclosure
There’s the problem of the remote or veiled disclosure, as I like to call it. You’ll see this: ‘My disclosures are at the bottom of my about page.’ So we drop a bitly link with the understanding that few Twitter consumers are going to click through. It’s a great way to absolve our guilt without clearly disclosing a connection. Where Twitter bio disclosures fit in is less clear in my mind.
My bottom line: If your connection to a product or service can’t be made reasonably clear at the point of viewing then it probably shouldn’t be shared.
All of this is a work of progress in my own head. Perhaps I’ll update this post as new ideas emerge.
Matthew DeCamp deconstructed social media and conflict in long form over on JGIM.
Image via Quinn Dombrowski on Flickr