While it’s taken for granted that most consumer-facing companies should have a presence on social media, and the same goes for many professionals, that’s not the case for one key group. Physicians should not “friend” or otherwise contact their patients via social media, according to a policy paper on guidelines from the American College of Physicians and Federation of State Medical Boards, titled “Online Medical Professionalism: Patient and Public Relationships.”
The medical industry organizations recommend that physicians should keep their personal lives entirely separate from their professional lives, which means limiting the extent of patient contact through informal channels like Facebook or Twitter. Email and other forms of electronic communication are permissible to the extent they take place in an established patient-physician relationship, and with the patient’s consent. Instances where patients ask for medical advice via electronic channels should be steered into a personal, face-to-face appointment.
While it’s not hard to see why doctors would be leery of letting patients get too close online, it’s also clear that social media can play a valuable role in medical care.
Last year I wrote about a new social media training program for medical students being offered by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, funded in part by a two-year grant from the Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation. The grant, bestowed as part of the foundations’ “Education and Training to Professionalism Initiative,” will help educate medical students about the uses of social media in the professional setting, as well as the boundaries they should observe, both out of respect for patient privacy and in order to protect themselves.
A recent survey published in JAMA found that 60% of medical schools reported that students had posted “unprofessional” content on the Internet. A central part of the curriculum will involve first- and second-year medical students looking at their own social media footprints for instances of inappropriate content. Third- and fourth-year students will interview community members to study how the patient population uses social media, and how social media might help doctors communicate with patients about healthcare.