Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Social Media Puts The Doctor-Patient Relationship To The Test

Posted by Amanda Walsh

Social media sites like Twitter and moreover, Facebook have brought the idea of “friending” colleagues, acquaintances and health care providers like your psychologist into a new light. Established boundaries between doctors and patients are being reassessed thanks to the popularity of social media sites where users may share too much personal information. Is it wise to "friend" your doctor? And, if your doctor rejects your “friend” request, how are you going to feel?

Some medical professionals believe that patients should use Google to research the credentials and experience of their doctors. But on the other hand, should doctors research their patients? “There is no need,” says Dr. Daniel Sands, director of clinical informatics for the Internet Business Solutions Group at Cisco Systems and physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. However, chief resident of McLean Hospital’s adult outpatient clinic, Dr. Benjamin Silverman, believes there are many appropriate justifications for doctors to Google their patients, such as in order to address concerns about a missed appointment or even more serious suspicions of suicide plans.

If seasoned doctors are focusing more on patient-doctor relationships online, what about those that are new to the field of medicine or psychology? According to an article on Boston.com, "a study of medical students and residents at the University of Florida, Gainesville, for instance, showed that only 37.5 percent made their Facebook sites private." Many of whom were not rejecting friend requests from patients but should be aware that photos, videos or other content could possibly compromise relationships with patients.

Points that health care providers may want to consider when setting up social media accounts include:

  • Choose wisely. Information posted online can be seen by anyone - patients, colleagues, and superiors alike.
  • Set boundaries. Policies for accepting or denying friend requests from patients (or clients) should be clear from the beginning.
  • Be honest. If a doctor has researched a client, some professionals believe full disclosure is important and necessary to ensure the integrity of the relationship.
  • Maintain trust. Above all, many professionals agree that trust in the doctor-patient relationship can not and should not be violated.
Professionals from all backgrounds should be vigilant over online relationships regardless of their nature.

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