A blog by Liani Austin

If you think of the word professional, what image comes to mind? Perhaps the clichéd lady in an office with a French roll, pencil skirt, jacket and court shoes? If she is a professional, what would her nature be like? Trustworthy, loyal, dependable, efficient, smart?

Although most occupational therapists (OT), especially those working with children or at health care facilities, don’t dress like the “clichéd” professional woman, we are at the very core of who we are professional. Along with this comes an ethical responsibility not only to the clients that we serve, but to our greater community.

But another, often overlooked aspect, is our images. Not necessarily our physical appearances, but rather how we portray ourselves and what makes us professional; what we say, what we do and how we do it. That brings me to the point of this blog: Social media and our ethical responsibility.

The Health Professions’ Council of South Africa (HPCSA) guides us and many of these guidelines have been put in place to help us all stay on the “right path”. This is to ensure best practice and to maintain our professional conduct as part of the health care profession. OTASA also provides continuous guidance and OTASA’s code of ethics and professional conduct clearly states that “Occupational therapy personnel shall demonstrate the highest standards of personal integrity; and shall not engage in criminal, unprofessional or other unlawful activity or behaviour.”

Social media is fast becoming engrained in our daily lives and many of us use this to our advantage. Raising awareness of what OT and sensory integration is, is just one example of how we can make use of social media positively. Many OTs in private practice have created Facebook pages and/or Instagram profiles, to share what they do and perhaps also as a replacement to a website. It’s cost- effective, easy and instant, and the public can learn more about OTs such as where they are based and how they can be of help, simply by having a look at their social media pages. So what could go wrong?

Well… SAISI has received increasing numbers of complaints over the past few years specifically about occupational therapists and the use of social media. Let’s look to the HPCSA for guidance on what is allowed and what not:

Always be mindful of misguiding the public and your patients:

Ensure that you refer to therapy techniques correctly. For example, don’t call a sensory-motor activity sensory integration therapy / Ayres Sensory Integration®. Make sure that the public knows that featured activities are sensory stimulation when done at home and that ASI® (sensory integration) is a specialised intervention that can only be performed by a qualified ASI® therapist and in an ASI® therapy room that meets the minimum requirements according to the Fidelity Measure.

Be careful of presenting yourself to the public as an ASI® OT when you have not yet received your final post-graduate qualification. HPCSA Booklet 5 (Making professional services known) states that if a health care professional chooses to make known that he or she practises in a specific field, the health care professional assumes a legal and ethical responsibility for having acquired a level of professional competence within that field of expertise which must be demonstrable and acceptable to his or her peers.

Be careful of canvassing, touting and inadvertently advertising your services via social media. The HPCSA Booklet 5 (Making professional services known) reminds us that patients are entitled to protection from misleading promotional, advertising or improper competitive activities among healthcare professionals. Publications (posting on social media) improperly drawing attention to the titles or professional attainments or personal qualities or superior knowledge or quality of service of a particular healthcare professional, or improperly drawing attention to his or her practice or best prices offered, may be construed as unprofessional conduct. In such cases account will be taken of whether the material is published in a manner likely to attract patients to the healthcare professional, or to promote his or her professional advantage or financial benefit; or whether the material is likely to encourage patients to refer themselves directly to a particular healthcare professional or organisation. Advertising in an unprofessional manner or canvassing and touting for patients are regarded as unethical behaviour, and would constitute a breach of professional conduct.

Be mindful of fear mongering in the way that you write. I was once shocked when an OT posted that “No child will be school ready on their own. Book your OT evaluation now!”; in effect saying that all children must do OT. Can you imagine already anxious parents’ turmoil?

Lastly, I encourage you to preserve and protect our professional image as healthcare professionals. Before you post, read your post again and do not allow spelling and typing errors. If you know that this is not one of your strengths, send the post to a friend, family member or proofreader to check first.

If you have concerns about an OT’s professional conduct on social media, have a look at the HPCSA booklets with specific guidelines or feel free to email the SAISI ethics committee at with your concerns.

We also encourage you to read a previous SAISI blog by Jamie Andrews: