Background: Use of social networking services (SNS) is on the rise. While many users sign in for personal purposes, it is not uncommon for professionals to connect over SNSs with clients, students, and patients.
Methods: The present study used an experimental approach to examine how medical doctors’ SNS profiles impacted potential patients’ impressions of professionalism. Participants (N=250 students) were randomly assigned to view one of six Facebook profiles. Profiles were populated with 1) solely professional material, 2) personal material that was strictly healthy, or 3) personal material that included unhealthy behavior. Profiles portrayed a male or female physician resulting in a total of six experimental conditions. Medical professionalism was measured with the First Impressions of Medical Professionalism (FIMP) scale, specifically developed for this study.
Results: There was a large and statistically significant main effect for profile type, F(2, 250)=54.77, p<0.001, . Post hoc tests indicated that personal profiles that contained healthy behavior were rated as most professional followed by profiles with strictly professional content. Personal unhealthy profiles were rated as least professional. Additionally, female profiles consistently received higher professionalism ratings across all three profile types [F(1, 250)=5.04, p=0.026, ].
Conclusion: Our results suggest that a physician's SNS profile affects a patient's perception of that physician's medical professionalism. A personal, healthy profile may augment a patient's perception of that physician's character virtues if the profile content upholds the decorum of the medical field.