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Physician Associates (PAs) need to tread carefully with their private messages, just like doctors, as new GMC guidance states that private communication platforms like WhatsApp are included in their professional sphere, meaning what they say there could impact their fitness to practice.

This landmark update to the Good Medical Practice (GMP) expands the definition of “social media” to encompass private messaging, and explicitly warns doctors that communications even within private groups could become public. Any concerns brought to the GMC that reach the “fitness to practice” threshold will be investigated.

There have been ‘a number of cases’ where private communications were used in disciplinary hearings, according to the Medical Defence Union (MDU).  

This change aligns with the broader overhaul of the GMP announced last year, which emphasizes positive workplace culture and zero tolerance for harassment. It also introduces an explicit obligation to be “kind” to colleagues, going beyond the previous requirement of being “polite and considerate.”

‘Our advice is to carefully consider the private messaging groups you join and the information you post, like, share and comment on within them. Think about how you would feel if a colleague or patient saw the chat, or if it was shared to a wider audience.’

Dr Catherine Wills, MDU deputy head of advisory services

By understanding these changes and practicing responsible online behavior, physician associates can protect their careers and uphold the high standards expected of medical professionals.

What does this mean for PAs?

  • PAs will be held to the same guidelines in Good Medical Practice once GMC regulation takes effect.
  • PAs need to exercise extreme caution with their private messages. Assume anything you say could be made public.
  • Choose your groups wisely: Consider the potential consequences of joining certain private groups or sharing information within them.
  • Stay informed: Familiarize yourself with the updated GMP and social media guidance to fully understand your professional responsibilities.

The MDU advises doctors to only share information in private groups they’d be comfortable seeing made public, reported by PULSE.

MDU deputy head of advisory services Dr Catherine Wills told PULSE: “It can be a tricky area as doctors are expected to uphold professional standards when using social media and this extends to their private lives. They can be held accountable for things they say, like or share in private messaging groups, even those that are not work related. Many are not aware of this.”

The Good Medical Practice guidelines will apply to physician associates and anaesthesia associates once they become regulated professionals which is expected before the end of 2024.

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