Would You Friend your Doctor?

I wanted to raise the debate about whether doctors with a profile on Facebook, may be compromising the doctor-patient relationship, because they do not use sufficient privacy settings? A fascinating piece of research was conducted recently in France with 405 post-graduate and trainee doctors who were surveyed about their Facebook habits; 73% of them were on the site and the findings raised some interesting question about patient interaction, and about the relationship between health care and social media.

Doctors I am sure already face potential challenges when it comes to use of e-mail with patients and the health industry as a whole stumbles in its forays into social media in general. So, here are some other stats from the French research to think about:

  • 6% had received friend requests from patients.  Would you consider this inappropriate?
  • 85% of the docs said they’d ignore a patients ‘Friend’ request regardless of who it was, 15% said they’d decide on a case-by-case basis;
  • Reasons given for accepting a friend request included some slightly coercive in nature: Fear of losing a patient or embarrassing them; and
  • Reasons for denying the request included a sense that it was unprofessional, or the patient had romantic intentions.

The researchers insist that friend requests are likely to become more common in the future.

Whether a doctor accepts or rejects a friend request could more be about what they use Facebook for. For example, where a Facebook site is more professional in nature or a place to share experiences, there’s probably less discomfort with letting a patient visit.

I do see some benefits as it allows the patient the opportunity to update their Doctor on their medical conditions since as we all experience very busy and crowded surgeries where our time with our GP is limited. Plus being on-line means the doctor should be able to reassure/treat the patient more easily and quickly.

However, I do wonder if there’s some protocol that shouldn’t be breached in the doctor- patient relationship in terms of socialising, or social media relations? Or is there value in removing the white-coated persona of social and professional stature that surrounds doctors, so that we view them as people with human traits such as compassion, the potential to err and prone to the occasional bad day.

I do believe there is the potential for breach of patient confidentiality. Plus, do the on-line discussions become part of a patient’s notes? How will the discussions be recorded? This is key as life/critical illness and medical insurance relies on information from doctors.

Is social media becoming a levelling ground in health care, allowing doctors to really listen and hear the voices of their patients? As social media is certainly a good tool for listening to people. Or are there other professions where a Facebook friendship would be questionable on ethical grounds?  Teachers? Following your doctors twitter feed isn’t likely to cause controversy since that’s a very public media. So where do we draw the line? What’s your view? Would you ever friend your doctor or other health care practitioner?


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