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Legal requirements and codes of professional conduct

The legal requirements associated with online communication are no different to those with which radiographers are already familiar in their face-to-face professional communications and which are reflected in the HCPC Standard of Conduct, Performance and Ethics.

In particular, the relevant standards for the professional use of SoMe are:

1. You must act in the best interests of service users 

For SoMe, this could include ensuring that service-users are treated with respect and dignity on on-line spaces, quashing inappropriate comments made about them by other practitioners and engaging service-users in on-line communication if this supports their role in decision-making.

2. You must respect the confidentiality of service users

For SoMe, this means never uploading service user data or images. Care should be taken about uploading photographs of a department where patients or their data might be displayed. You should also advise others who have done so of their obligation to remove such images. You should discourage patients from taking images in the department.

3. You must keep high standards of personal conduct

For SoMe, this means being mindful of your digital footprint at all times. Even on private or closed group sites it is inadvisable to post messages or other media which presents you in an unprofessional light. On SoMe you should treat others with the dignity and respect that would be expected in normal professional practice.

4. You must keep your professional knowledge and skills up to date

For SoMe, this means ensuring that knowledge you share with others on line, either service- users or other professionals, is informed by current evidence.

5. You must act within the limits of your knowledge, skills and experience and, if necessary, refer the matter to another practitioner

For SoMe, this means ensuring that you do not give advice to service-users or other professionals which is outside of your scope of practice. If you do so, you must declare that you are commenting in a personal, rather than professional, capacity.

6. You must communicate properly and effectively with service-users and other practitioners

For SoMe, this means that you must ensure you are equipped with the relevant skills to engage with service-users and practitioners on line. This would include understanding the nuances of non-visual communication and the way your messages are received (Katz and Moyer, 2004; Grando, Rozenblum and Bates, 2015).  

7. You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession

For SoMe this means being mindful of your digital footprint at all times. Even on private or closed group sites, it is inadvisable to post messages or other media which might portray the profession in a negative way.

Trust/Employer: additional constraints

In addition to the above the radiography workforce needs to be aware of any local policies imposed by their employer. Where these might prohibit the use of SoMe for service user benefit, the radiography workforce are encouraged to make representations to challenge such policies.

Safeguarding

Notwithstanding standard 2 above, where there appears to be a clear need to safeguard the welfare of a professional and/or his/her family, it may be necessary to contact relevant authorities about a clearly identifiable member and his/her posts on the forum. All radiographers are urged to report to the appropriate authorities anyone disclosing anything that states that they are a danger to themselves or others, and/or seek professional support and advice on the matter.

Disciplinary action

Unfortunately there have been cases where the HCPC has removed radiographers from their register because of inappropriate conduct in online communication (SoR, 2015). This is a salient point and a warning that online actions are ultimately public. However, it must also be remembered that SoMe itself is not responsible for unprofessional conduct; it is merely the medium through which an unprofessional radiographer might be exposed. A final piece of advice is, therefore, to never post something online that you would not be prepared to state in any public arena. To do so would be unprofessional, whatever the medium.

Updating

The guidance contained in this document was correct at the time of going to press. Employment law is regularly changing, especially in light of how our society’s use of SoMe develops. Such changes may require radiographers to modify their behaviour further. The responsibility is on the radiographer to ensure that they are up-to-date with such changes in the law. The guidelines will be reviewed on a regular basis to reflect this rapidly changing area of communication.

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