(HealthDay News) – Most medical licensing authorities receive and act upon reports of physicians’ online professionalism violations, according to a research letter published in the March 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

S. Ryan Greysen, MD, MHS, of the University of California in San Francisco, and colleagues surveyed 68 executive directors of medical and osteopathic boards in the United States to investigate the types of online professionalism violations that have been reported to them, and the subsequent measures taken to address these violations.

The researchers found that 48 boards, responsible for licensing 88% of the total number of physicians with active licenses in the Federation of State Medical Boards’ database, responded to the survey. Ninety-two percent had received one or more violation report; these reports were received from patients and their families as well as from other physicians. Of those boards having received one or more violation reports, 69% involved inappropriate patient communication; 63% concerned physicians using the Internet for inappropriate practice, such as to prescribe medications without an established clinical relationship; and 60% involved an online misrepresentation of credentials. Disciplinary proceedings were held by 71% of boards and included both formal disciplinary hearings and issuing of consent orders. However, informal warnings and, in more serious cases, license restriction, suspension, or revocation also occurred.

“Our findings highlight the need to promote physician understanding and self-monitoring of online professionalism and to create consensus-driven, broadly disseminated principles to guide physicians toward high-integrity interactions online,” the authors write.

One author disclosed an advisory relationship with Fair Health Inc. and a financial relationship with the Yale University Open Data Access project, which facilitates objective analysis of Medtronic clinical data.

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