There is a need for formal policies to be introduced that are similar to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the US.

Last week, research in the Journal of the American Medical Association uncovered examples of web gossip by trainee doctors sharing private patient stories with details revealed.

David Stanley, managing director EMEA at Proofpoint, claimed that the story about medics posting messages on social networking websites is the tip of the iceberg as ‘the threat of email is often overlooked'.

Stanley said: “Although Twitter has immediate power to reach the masses, email is used more widely and by more senior decision makers. Content is often more detailed and hidden from general view, making them deadly as employees unwittingly hand over private and harmful information to the receiver.

“It seems we are in an era where damage can be done with the press of a button, with the ‘brand' taking the first battering by the press before legalities of confidential data is even considered.”

The report, according to BBC News, found that over half of 78 US medical schools studied had reported cases of students posting unprofessional content online with many postings including profanity and discriminatory language.

Stanley claimed that while there is no healthcare specific privacy law in the UK, formal policies need to be introduced and those involved need to be educated, with serious repercussions to all who fall foul of the rules.