In an increasingly digitalized era when most of our communication happens online, doctors are still shying away from befriending their patients on Facebook, at least not for a while longer.
Public pages for professional practices are not uncommon, though. Email might also be a preferred means of communication, but this is where physicians usually draw the line. It’s only natural that your doctor wouldn’t want to share his vacation pictures with you or other personal details.
With patients trying to get their doctors to give medical advice or treatment suggestion via private chats, doctors often feel that the lines between private and professional have become way too blurry. There’s also the problem of privacy issues that might arise after in discussing specific medical concerns on the Internet.
But the times are changing, and so are these social etiquettes as illustrated by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. This group of medical professionals has updated its social media guidelines, and according to the new rules, it’s up to physicians if they want to become Facebook friends with their patients or not.
But even when it comes to professional pages, using them often raises the question of privacy: Is it safe to talk about sensitive health information on these forums? Do they actually help or just complicate the doctor-patient relationship? Are there any boundaries?
From a historical point of view, the general consensus adopted by professional groups such as the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians is that communicating with patients via personal Facebook pages is advised against.
Even though social media profiles could prove useful in sharing health information, the 2010 guidelines of The American Medical Association urge doctors to keep their personal and professional online identities separate.
It’s not uncommon for patients to want to incorporate social media in their health care, as explained by James Colbert, a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. He described the trend as a “growing consumer approach to medicine,” such as the mentality that physicians should be available at all hours.
According to a recent survey published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, roughly 20 percent of respondents have tried contacting their doctors through Facebook, and nearly 40 percent through email. Doctors, however, don’t seem to be as enthusiast about the tech of it all, and for good reasons of security.
When discussing specific health concerns with patients through unencrypted social platforms, physicians could unconsciously violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the patient privacy law. But with technology and communication intertwining this much, maybe the HIPAA law deserves another look.
Image Source: Torange