Richard G. Jones, Jr.
Scholar, Educator, Author

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Should Doctors and Patients Be Facebook Friends?:

Apr 14, 2013

The Intersections of Social Media and Medicine

A recent CBSNews.com story reviews several new reports that recommend doctors engage with social media cautiously. This is just one in a series of recent stories in USA Today, Forbes, and other outlets. These stories are in reaction to a recent position paper published in the prestigious journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

This is the first big step in the medical community toward offering recommendations about health care provider - patient interactions via social media. The paper is called: "Online Medical Professionalism: Patient and Public Relationships" and it offers some of the following recommendations:

  • Not "friending" or connecting with patients on social media
  • Not using text messaging for medical interactions, unless doctors exercise extreme caution and have consent from the patient
  • Being cautious of what material doctors post and what online content is attributed to them
  • Encouraging education programs that take a pro-active approach to [medical professionals'] digital image or online reputation

The obvious positives of doctor - patient interactions via social media include ease of contact, which can allow patients to get advice sooner than later, since many of us postpone going to the doctor. Doctors can also provide useful links to credible medical information that patients can access, which may be more reliable than the information patients find while doing their own internet "research." After all, about 25% of the Google search results for "headache" discuss brain tumors.

There are obvious negatives as well. The blurring of lines between professional and personal can lead doctors and patients into ethical gray areas.Another recent news story reported that the most common violation of professional ethics is doctors asking their patients out on dates via online dating sites or social media. I was actually surprised by this, but medical boards are taking it seriously, with over half of the cases leading to serious punishment including revoking medical licenses, and the results of the study being published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Questions to Consider:

  • What other positives and negatives of doctor-patient interactions via social media can you think of?
  • Would you be open to communicating with your health care providers via social media? Why or why not?