Professional ethics and data privacy: Social media use for healthcare professionals in the wake of Dr Mbiti controversy

  • 9 Mar 2024
  • 2 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Kennedy Osore

The intersection of social media and professional ethics has become increasingly complex, especially in fields as sensitive as healthcare. The recent controversy surrounding Dr Dennis Mbiti, known as ‘Mbiti Mwondi MD,’ highlights the importance of understanding the ethical implications of sharing patient information on public platforms.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council (KMPDC) has launched investigations into Dr Mbiti following a controversial tweet he posted on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. In the tweet, Dr Mbiti shared photos of newly born twins he delivered via C-Section, along with a caption stating his intention to confer “elderly status” on the boy by delivering him first.

The allegations against Dr Mbiti include breaching patient confidentiality by posting photos without written consent and potentially prioritising the delivery of one twin over another for non-medical reasons. These allegations have raised concerns about professional ethics and data privacy within the medical community.

According to the letter addressed to Dr Mbiti by the KMPDC, the anonymous complaint accused him of disregarding patient confidentiality and ethical norms. This prompted the Council to demand a comprehensive response from Dr Mbiti, along with any relevant documentation to aid in their investigation.

From a legal standpoint, posting images of someone else’s child on social media without consent constitutes a violation of data privacy laws. The Data Protection Act mandates that any handling of personal data concerning a child requires prior consent from the child’s parent or guardian. Moreover, such handling of personal data should prioritise the protection and advancement of the rights and best interests of the child. In Dr Mbiti’s case, it is uncertain whether he obtained consent from the mother before sharing the photos. Without proper consent, the act of sharing such images can lead to significant repercussions, both ethically and legally.

Furthermore, the claim that Dr Mbiti intentionally delivered the boy first to confer him with an “elderly status” raises questions about medical ethics. In obstetrics, the order of delivery is typically determined by medical necessity rather than social or cultural preferences. If investigations reveal that Dr Mbiti prioritised one twin over the other for non-medical reasons, it could constitute a breach of medical ethics.

This case highlights the importance of maintaining professional boundaries, especially when using social media platforms. Healthcare professionals must be vigilant in protecting patient confidentiality and respecting privacy rights, even in cyberspace. Posting patient information or images without proper consent not only violates ethical standards but also undermines trust in the medical profession.

Moving forward, healthcare providers need to undergo training on the responsible use of social media and the implications of sharing patient information online. Institutions should establish clear guidelines and protocols to ensure that healthcare professionals understand their obligations regarding patient privacy and confidentiality in the digital age.

The case of Dr Dennis Mbiti serves as a reminder of the ethical challenges posed by social media in the healthcare sector. Upholding professional ethics and respecting patient privacy must remain paramount, both online and offline. As the investigation unfolds, it is imperative that lessons are learned and measures are put in place to prevent similar incidents in the future.