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Social media

November 15, 2023

Background

Social media provides great opportunities to educate the public and interact with colleagues, but building and maintaining a professional relationship in this environment is challenging. Social media platforms are highly accessible, informal, and public. This invites critical steps to be taken to uphold your professional image and obligations while online. ACP expects regulated members to comply with all existing professional expectations when using social media when there is a clear connection between what they post and the pharmacy professions.

With new tools coming online regularly, social media can include, but is not limited to

  • Facebook;
  • Instagram;
  • Instagram Threads;
  • LinkedIn;
  • Pinterest;
  • Snapchat;
  • TikTok;
  • X (formerly known as Twitter); and
  • video hosting or streaming platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, Twitch, and Kick.

Advice to protect you, your patients, and your profession

While engaging in social media, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians should consider the following:

  1. Professionalism
    1. Always exercise professional judgement. When posting on social media, hold yourself accountable to ACP’s Code of Ethics (specifically, Principles 1 and 3) and Standards of Practice for Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians (specifically, Standard 1: Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians must act professionally).
    2. Protect your reputation, the reputation of your profession, and the public trust. Do not post content that could be viewed as unprofessional, inaccurate, or misleading. Maintain respect for patients, colleagues, co-workers, other health professionals, and others, and be careful not to degrade anyone online or engage in personal attacks. Remove any content already posted by you which may be viewed as unprofessional. Everything you post or share—personally or professionally—can be linked back to an individual’s practice and colleagues. Keep in mind that prospective employers and patients often check your online presence, and unprofessional posts have resulted in complaints being submitted to ACP. The greater the connection is between your post and the pharmacy professions, the more likely your post may fall under the oversight of ACP.
    3. Mitigate conflicts of interest. When posting content as a health professional, be transparent. Clearly identify who you are and identify any conflicts of interest you may have in conjunction with the information you provide. Avoid the use of aliases. You are accountable while posting online, regardless of whether you are using your professional identity, personal identity, or posting under a pseudonym.1 You should openly declare if you are receiving any compensation for your social media posts—and, if so, from whom—or if there are any other potential conflicts. Refer to Code of Ethics Principle 10 (Act with honesty and integrity).
    4. Present information that is accurate. Avoid any misrepresentation of facts. You may use social media to disseminate general, evidence-based health information for educational or information sharing purposes. (Refer to Principles 6 and 8 of the ACP Code of Ethics). Do not post content that is not supported by generally recognized and accepted evidence. Do not misrepresent your qualifications or the services pharmacy professionals provide.
    5. Do not provide professional services or clinical advice to a specific patient through social media. Refer to the Standards of Practice for Virtual Care to determine when and how virtual care may be provided safely and appropriately.
    6. Do not establish online PERSONAL connections with patients or people closely associated with them. Do not seek out personal or health information about your patients on their social media profiles. This interferes with your ability to maintain appropriate professional boundaries and may compromise your objectivity.
    7. Do not engage in professional, business, or personal disputes with patients, customers, or colleagues via social media. Anything you post on social media could be held against you or may be viewed as unprofessional.
    8. Statements to separate personal account profiles from employers and the professions are not effective. Some professionals will state on their account profiles that their comments are their own and do not reflect the opinions of their employers or the professions. These statements do not protect you from complaints to ACP if your behaviour could be viewed as unprofessional and there is a clear connection between your posts and the pharmacy professions.
    9. Consider the reaction of your post by all segments of the population, not just your intended audience. Other segments of the population may not understand your post’s intended humour, tone, or language, and take offence or perceive it as unprofessional. Try to post in a manner that will be understood and accepted by people of all backgrounds and ages.
  2. Privacy
    1. Do not post any information online that identifies an actual patient. The privacy and security of individual patient information is paramount. Ensure you comply with legal and professional obligations to maintain privacy and confidentiality. If the information you post potentially allows others to identify the patient, then this would be considered a violation of patient privacy. Although individual pieces of information may not alone breach patient privacy, the sum of published information could be sufficient to identify a patient or their family. Never post an image of a patient’s prescription, or any other document, that contains patient health or personal information on social media. This would be considered a breach of privacy.
    2. Protect the identity of other health professionals. Refrain from online comment about the practice of another health professional in any way that could reveal the identity of that person.
    3. Assume that all online content in both personal and professional accounts is public and accessible to everyone. Privacy breaches involving social media are inherently far more dangerous than many other scenarios because the information can be spread so quickly to so many. Even images shared with other professionals in ‘closed’ social media circles, such as a members-only group, can still leak out. The social software itself may prevent sharing outside of the group, but individuals can capture the image with a screenshot and distribute it themselves. Once an image has been released publicly on social media, there is no way to control how many thousands of unauthorized individuals might see it.
  3. Technology
    1. Understand the technology you are using. Know the social media site or app’s terms and conditions. Know how to edit and delete posts if possible. Apply the strictest privacy settings necessary (including two-factor authentication) to maintain control over access to your information. Be sure to regularly check to ensure that the platform has not changed the privacy settings.
    2. Be aware of evolution of social media platforms. Remember that social media platforms are constantly evolving; be proactive in considering how professional expectations apply in any given circumstances.
      Remember that all of this advice applies not only when you are posting to your own sites, but when you participate in or comment on other people’s social media posts, forums, blogs, and shared videos.

1 CPSA Social Media Advice to the Profession