Physician Learns of Professional Criticism on Social Media Network

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta Ethics 101 Leave a Comment

The August Ethics 101 scenario has been submitted by Dr. Fraser Leishman.


You are a family physician practicing in a small rural community of 5000 residents. You have an established practice, but occasionally you see patients for your colleagues when they are away. One day you see one of your colleague’s patients presenting with classic mild viral upper respiratory symptoms beginning one day prior to the visit. Symptoms include cough, runny nose, and sneezing. You take a thorough history and do an appropriate physical examination. You recommend to the patient they manage their symptoms supportively and that antibiotics are not indicated in this case. The patient seems to agree with this approach and, when asked, they say that they do not have any questions or concerns.

A few days later, you hear from a friend the patient has posted disparaging comments about you by name on a Facebook group involving many members of the community (you are not a part of this group so you cannot read these comments for yourself). Your friend says the patient in question has made comments to the effect that you are an incompetent doctor who doesn’t even understand that patients with “pneumonia” need antibiotics. You decline to comment to your friend on this issue in order to maintain patient confidentiality, but at the same time you feel upset.

Is there anything that can be done to respond to this very public attack on your competency while maintaining patient confidentiality?