Revenue Cycle Management Blog | GroupOne Health Source

The Social Media Controversy with Doctors

Written by Kaitlyn Houseman | November 9, 2015

Ten years ago, it was easy for doctors to keep a professional distance between themselves and their patients. They could have an unlisted personal phone number, for starters, which would leave the office number as the only publicly available way to contact you. Nowadays, doctors are personally available online 24 hours a day - if they have a social media presence. Here's how physicians can adapt and manage their social media presence without hurting patient relationships or sacrificing their own privacy.

Patients Being Able to Find You Online - Easily

Some doctors and nurses refuse to have any social media profiles because they make it impossible to separate public from private. For instance, you can keep your Facebook account private so only your friends see it. However, they only need to share one of your fantastic pictures with their friends for your private life to be leaked to anyone - including your patients.
Doctors who have a professional presence on a platform like LinkedIn but keep another social media profile for their personal lives tend to forget about search engines. Patients only need to type in your name, and they can go well beyond the professional profile you've provided on your business card.
It is inevitable that some of your patients will search for information about you, so they will quickly find any and all of your social media profiles. Keep this at the forefront of your mind.

Social Media and Establishing Trust
A study in India found that one of the factors involved in trusting a doctor is the degree of personal involvement they have with the patient. Social networks are obviously focused on personal involvement. If a patient is seeking online social engagement with their doctor, and that invitation to connect is refused, there's a chance that the patient's trust level will be reduced.

...So What Can You Do?

There are clear dangers in blurring the professional boundaries with patients. Read on for some tips that will ensure the long-held doctor-patient relationship is not affected negatively by any online engagement.

Be Professional Online

Make sure everything you post is professional. You might just be sharing medical information between colleagues, but patients can see it unless you use a completely closed network. Nurses in the UK and Sweden, for instance, have been disciplined for sharing certain work-related material on social media. The information was made available publicly - not a good situation. Think before you post anything.

The American College of Physicians provides specific advice on ensuring that what you post is acceptable.

Resist the Temptation to Search

Social networks aren't just one way. Doctors can search for patients just as much as patients can search for doctors. If doctors try to find out more about their patients, it could have a negative impact on the doctor-patient relationship. In the UK, this issue has been raised among psychiatrists, pointing out that monitoring the behavior of mental health patients could be a useful diagnostic tool. Even so, the conclusion was that such activity should be avoided as, quite apart from ethical considerations, it could harm the doctors' relationships with their patients.

So what can you do and what should you not do? The answer is relatively straightforward: Only post material on open social networks that you would be happy sharing with your patients, in the office. Moreover, only connect with patients online in the same way you would in the office. Anything else blurs the relationship.