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
Social Media and Establishing Trust
...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.