Ethics of clinician communication in a changing communication landscape: Guidance from professional societies

Sarah E. Gollust, Anne M. Dwyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Cancer experts engage in public communication whenever they promote their research or practice, respond to media inquiries, or use social media. In a changing communication landscape characterized by new technologies and heightened attention to cancer controversies, these activities may pose ethical challenges. This study was designed to evaluate existing resources to help clinicians navigate their public communication activities. Methods: We conducted a systematic, qualitative content analysis of codes of ethics, policy statements, and similar documents disseminated by professional medical and nursing societies for their members. We examined these documents for four types of content related to public communication: communication via traditional media; communication via social media; other communication to the public, policy, and legal spheres; and nonspecific language regarding public communication. Results: We identified 46 documents from 23 professional societies for analysis. Five societies had language about traditional news media communication, five had guidance about social media, 11 had guidance about other communication domains, and 15 societies offered general language about public communication. The limited existing guidance focused on ethical issues related to patients (such as privacy violations) or clinicians (such as accuracy and professional boundaries), with less attention to population or policy impact of communication. Conclusions: Cancer-related professional societies might consider establishing more specific guidance for clinicians concerning their communication activities in light of changes to the communication landscape. Additional research is warranted to understand the extent to which clinicians face ethical challenges in public communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberlgt028
Pages (from-to)147-152
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute - Monographs
Issue number47
StatePublished - Dec 2013


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