Public Disclosure on Social Media of Identifiable Patient Information by Health Professionals: Content Analysis of Twitter Data



Ahmed W, Jagsi R, Gutheil TG & Katz MS (2020) Public Disclosure on Social Media of Identifiable Patient Information by Health Professionals: Content Analysis of Twitter Data. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22 (9), Art. No.: e19746.

Background: Respecting patient privacy and confidentiality is critical for doctor-patient relationships and public trust in medical professionals. The frequency of potentially identifiable disclosures online during periods of active engagement is unknown. Objective: The objective of this study was to quantify potentially identifiable content shared on social media by physicians and other health care providers using the hashtag #ShareAStoryInOneTweet. Methods: We accessed and searched Twitter’s API using Symplur software for tweets that included the hashtag #ShareAStoryInOneTweet. We identified 1206 tweets by doctors, nurses, and other health professionals out of 43,374 tweets shared in May 2018. Tweet content was evaluated in January 2019 to determine the incidence of instances where names or potentially identifiable information about patients were shared; content analysis of tweets in which information about others had been disclosed was performed. The study also evaluated whether participants raised concerns about privacy breaches and estimated the frequency of deleted tweets. The study used dual, blinded coding for a 10% sample to estimate intercoder reliability using Cohen κ statistic for identifying the potential identifiability of tweet content. Results: Health care professionals (n=656) disclosing information about others included 486 doctors (74.1%) and 98 nurses (14.9%). Health care professionals sharing stories about patient care disclosed the time frame in 95 tweets (95/754, 12.6%) and included patient names in 15 tweets (15/754, 2.0%). It is estimated that friends or families could likely identify the clinical scenario described in 242 of the 754 tweets (32.1%). Among 348 tweets about potentially living patients, it was estimated that 162 (46.6%) were likely identifiable by patients. Intercoder reliability in rating the potential identifiability demonstrated 86.8% agreement, with a Cohen κ of 0.8 suggesting substantial agreement. We also identified 78 out of 754 tweets (6.5%) that had been deleted on the website but were still viewable in the analytics software data set. Conclusions: During periods of active sharing online, nurses, physicians, and other health professionals may sometimes share more information than patients or families might expect. More study is needed to determine whether similar events arise frequently and to understand how to best ensure that patients’ rights are adequately respected.

Social Media; Twitter; Patient Information; Confidentiality; Health Professionals

Journal of Medical Internet Research: Volume 22, Issue 9

FundersNewcastle University
Publication date30/09/2020
Publication date online01/09/2020
Date accepted by journal23/07/2020
PublisherJMIR Publications Inc.