Medics posting messages on networking websites like Facebook and Twitter are breaching patient confidentiality, the BBC has reported.
Trainee doctors were found to be sharing private patient stories and details online, research in the Journal of the American Medical Association found.
Over half of 78 US medical schools studied had reported cases of students posting unprofessional content online.
One in 10 of these contained frank violations of patient confidentiality and many postings included profanity and discriminatory language.
Some incidents were deemed serious enough to lead to dismissal from medical school, yet few of the medical schools had policies that covered online social networking and blogging.
Dr Katherine Chretien of the Washington DC VA Medical Center, who led the study, said medical students may not be aware of how online posting can reflect negatively on medical professionalism or jeopardise their careers.
Similarly, patient confidentiality breaches may be unintentional.
Dr Chretien’s team recommends that medical students are taught as part of their training about the risks associated with making postings on the Internet.
As a matter of course, students should be shown how to elect privacy settings on social networking sites and should be told to perform periodic Web searches of their own name to vet listed online content.
A spokesman for the British Medical Association said: “Patient confidentiality is paramount and medical students and doctors obviously need to be very careful about any information they post online.”