In November 2022, Ohio plastic surgeon Katharine Roxanne Grawe (known as “Dr. Roxy” online) had her medical license summarily suspended after repeated complaints and reprimands for live-streaming patient procedures on TikTok and other social media platforms during live patient procedures. Last month, the State Medical Board of Ohio voted to permanently revoke Dr. Grawe's credentials.
During repeated interactions with Dr. Grawe concerning these issues, the Board had at different times cited concerns about informed consent of patients, ethical privacy, and the fact that three patients in these procedures later reported complications (raising questions as to whether live-streaming the procedures had affected the doctor's judgment). Ultimately, the Board decided to revoke Grawe's license permanently on the determination that her “continued practice presents a danger of immediate and serious harm to the public.”
Patient Privacy in the Age of Social Media
Dr. Grawe's case serves as a cautionary tale for medical professionals regarding the fine line between social media and patient privacy. The medical field is not immune to the allure of online sharing in this social media age. Physicians and other medical professionals are increasingly using platforms like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube to share their experiences, procedures, and medical breakthroughs with the public. While such sharing can educate and inspire, it also raises serious concerns about patient privacy and professional boundaries, which, if not properly managed, could lead to disciplinary action and even loss of medical license.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets strict standards for protecting patient health information. Any disclosure of health information without the patient's consent, including posting about procedures on social media, can potentially violate HIPAA rules. Even if the patient's name is not mentioned, sharing specific details about a procedure could inadvertently identify the patient, leading to a breach of privacy. As with the case of Dr. Grawe, sometimes medical boards may still cite privacy issues even if the patient has granted some form of consent.
Boundary Issues and Professionalism
Beyond privacy issues, sharing procedural details on social media can blur the professional boundaries between physicians and the public. Physicians hold a position of trust and authority, and it is vital to maintain professional decorum at all times, both offline and online. Social media posts that discuss specific procedures can risk crossing this line, especially if they are presented in a casual or sensationalized manner. Such posts can erode professional boundaries and potentially undermine the public's trust in the medical profession. Again, this type of conduct can attract the attention of regulatory bodies, leading to disciplinary action or loss of license.
Navigating Social Media Safely
While social media can be a helpful tool for physicians, it must be used responsibly. Here are a few guidelines to help physicians navigate social media while avoiding potential pitfalls:
- Obtain Informed Consent: If you wish to discuss a procedure on social media, obtain informed consent from the patient beforehand. Make sure the patient understands exactly what information will be shared and how it will be used, and make sure you have a written agreement to that effect.
- Anonymize Information: Even with consent, make every effort to anonymize the patient's information. Avoid sharing any details that could potentially identify the patient. (Note: as Dr. Grawe's case illustrates, sharing actual procedures may blur the lines of anonymity even if you have informed consent.)
- Maintain Professionalism: Always present information in a professional and respectful manner. Avoid sensationalizing procedures or making inappropriate comments.
- Stay Within Your Expertise: Only discuss procedures and topics within your area of expertise. Sharing information outside your field can mislead the public and potentially harm your professional reputation.
If you are a healthcare professional whose social media presence has raised concerns with your licensing board, the Professional License Defense Team of the Lento Law Firm can help. We have nationwide experience and a proven track record helping physicians, nurses, and other licensed professionals whose licenses are under scrutiny. Call us at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case.