Ellis v Medical Board of Australia  VCAT 862 (on AUSTLII) saw an unsuccessful appeal by a medical practitioner against a decision of the Medical Board of Australia to suspend his registration.
The decision is of interest mainly because the notification to the Medical Board, made by the practice manager of the clinic in Melbourne where the doctor was working at the time, prompted an investigation into his use of social media. Certain posts and reposts of material included information and opinions about vaccines, chemotherapy, COVID-19 and other medical topics, and opinions about certain religious and other groups.
The doctor offered an undertaking essentially that he would close his social media accounts; that he would not reopen any of the accounts or post on any social media forum until finalisation of AHPRA’s investigation or determination by the Board; and that he would make all efforts to delete his social media commentary.
The Tribunal was required to consider whether the doctor posed a serious risk to persons; and it is necessary to take immediate action to protect public health or safety (or is otherwise in the public interest).
In relation to certain medical statements, the Tribunal concluded at  that the doctor’s social media commentary had at least had the potential to cause serious harm to members of the public, especially the vulnerable and the unqualified.
In relation to what might be called general principles, at  the Tribunal commented:
The Code and the Social Media Guidelines acknowledge that doctors have their own personal beliefs and values. The Code and the Social Media Guidelines nevertheless make clear what the problems associated with (the doctor’s) social media commentary are. The Code provides that doctors are required to display qualities such as integrity, truthfulness and compassion. Doctors have the responsibility to protect and promote the health of individuals and the community. Doctors must be culturally aware and respectful of the beliefs and cultures of others. The Social Media Guidelines require that doctors ensure that any comments they make on social media – whether by commenting, sharing or “liking” – are consistent with the codes, standards and guidelines of the profession and do not contradict or counter public health campaigns or messaging, lest they give legitimacy to false health-related information and breach their professional responsibilities. The Social Media Guidelines further advise that social media comments that reflect or promote personal views about social and clinical issues might impact on someone’s sense of cultural safety or could lead to a patient feeling judged, intimidated or embarrassed.
And further at :
Doctors are free to make contributions towards the advancement of medicine. Ordinarily, they do so through appropriate discourse within the professional community. In this context, there is an obvious difference between publication via social media and, say, publication in medical journals. But there is a broader point. Dissemination of material by a registered medical practitioner to the general public that is disparaging, denigrating and demeaning, or that otherwise has the capacity to cause harm to the community in the ways we have identified, is expression of a different kind altogether.