Just my two cents

Musings on social media and the world as I see it

Physicians are not your (Facebook) friends


Doctors on Facebook -- is it a good idea? (photo by j.reed)

When you’re sick, hopefully the first person you call is your physician. In that sense, he or she IS your friend. But unless you’ve got a standing relationship with your physician outside the exam room, that’s where the “friendship” should end.

But in today’s socially connected world, physicians who are on Facebook with personal accounts may find themselves receiving “friend” requests from patients. While there are policies in the works from several agencies like the American Medical Association, nothing has yet to be formalized. While there are several sources for guiding physicians, like this article from FiercePracticeManagement, many physicians are still left in a quandary. As a result, several of our physicians have asked us what they should do. We worked with our legal department to develop some guidelines for our doctors to consider if and when they receive these request

Although this goes against the social media “be social!” mantra, first and foremost, we have recommended that they not accept the friend request, based on a few simple facts. The first is obvious: physicians must maintain patient privacy and confidentiality at all times, and while that’s easy to do in a hospital or office setting, the lines can become a bit blurred when it comes to the world of Facebook. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for a patient to initiate a conversation on a Facebook wall that could cross the line, thereby eroding the boundaries of the physician-patient relationship, and possibly even threatening ethical standards because of the casual nature of communication on the social network.

We also have asked physicians to keep in mind that accepting friend requests from patients will allow those patients to see personal information and have a glimpse into the private lives of the physicians. Unless the privacy settings are tweaked carefully, patients who are now Facebook friends would be privy to the doctor’s conversations with friends, or see the photos of dinner and cocktails last weekend. It could change the professional image and reputation of a physician if a patient can see into the private and/or social life of a physician.

I recognize that this may go against the grain, but we felt it was in our physicians’ best interests to keep their personal and professional lives separate. On the other hand, if they were to establish a Facebook account for their practice, I believe that would involve a totally different set of guidelines.

I’m very interested to hear how other hospital marketers and social media managers are advising their physicians. Share your thoughts!

This post was written for an originally appeared on www.hospitalimpact.org.

Author: Nancy Jean

I love reading, writing, music, the beach, and being a mom to two rescue dogs. My job is social media for health care.

2 thoughts on “Physicians are not your (Facebook) friends

  1. Hi Nancy Jean .. I think healthcare providers need to be made aware of the implications you point out. The providers I work with tend to be so consumed that they just don’t think these things through. There are some very interesting applications for Facebook social media when a provider creates an organization page. Settings can be configured in a way that limits personal information and allows the practice to communicate, educate and even promote services without permitting wall posts. The reality is that techy patients love the ability to be “in the know”. Facebook appeals to those patients. It’s like any other tool, and can be used strategically.

    Specialists offering elective services, providers who conduct periodic seminars, and others whose patients intend to keep in close touch over time because of their interest in news and events can benefit from having a well-managed Facebook organization page and avoid linking with patients on their personal page (if they have one!).

    • Hi Karen, and thanks so much for your comment — it’s great to meet you too! Good to know about the specific settings, but you’re right about “techy patients.” It sounds like we’re both on the same page though about keeping personal pages private. I’ll be sure to check out your blog as well. This is such an exciting time for health care with all these new tools we have, and they can be great if used correctly. Thanks again!

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