Can Patients be Facebook Friends with Doctors?

This is updated from a post in my old blog dated 10/05/10.

Last week, a patient surprised me by saying, “Doc, ang ganda mo pala sa Facebook!” Translated: Doctor, you look pretty in Facebook! Though she said it as a compliment, I felt uncomfortable on two counts. First, did she mean that I wasn’t pretty in person? 🙂 Ah, vanity! Second, and more importantly, why was she looking me up in Facebook? She must have sensed my discomfort and didn’t say anything further. I was afraid she might ask me directly if we could be Facebook friends. Thankfully, she didn’t! Because I would have said No.

A few months back, I got a PM on Facebook from someone saying she was the daughter of my patient. She was asking me something about the patient’s case. I decided to ignore the message, for two reasons. First, I could not confirm her identity and second, I did not think it wise to discuss such matters on Facebook. Apparently, I’m not the only doctor who has had such encounters.  And I cannot agree more with SH Jain who said in Practicing Medicine in the Age of Facebook (N Engl J Med 2009;361:649-651)

“By creating a new environment for individual and group interaction, social-networking sites also create new challenges for those who work in clinical settings.”

In my post on social media policy, I mentioned the best practices outlined in the social media guidelines of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. In this same guideline, a few examples of fictional cases are given, the first of which is exactly this situation – a patient attempts to friend a doctor on Facebook. Best practice 3 refers to protecting patient privacy.

A patient attempts to “friend” an attending physician on Facebook.  This is almost always inappropriate, unless the doctor-patient relationship has ended.  Even after the doctor-patient relationship has ended, it would be inappropriate to discuss health-related information. (Best Practice 3)

Finally, let me quote from the American Medical Association Policy: Professionalism in the Use of Social Media.

If they interact with patients on the Internet, physicians must maintain appropriate boundaries of the patient-physician relationship in accordance with professional ethical guidelines just, as they would in any other context.

 

That being said, I would prefer not to be Facebook friends with my patients. Not everyone will agree. In the end, it is a personal decision.

Facebook

Photo by birgerking http://www.flickr.com/photos/birgerking/5600215736/ Accessed 26 Oct 2011

 

4 thoughts on “Can Patients be Facebook Friends with Doctors?”

  1. I came across this post through a colleague who posted the link in a (closed) FB group from blogging doctors. I was inspired to write a sort of “reply” post to this, since I do feel strongly about the topic. The link is here, perhaps you might want to read my views as well. http://thelastsongsyndrome.blogspot.com/2011/11/d… Thank you for your time and this post.

    1. Hi Gigi! Yes, bonedoc also posted a link to your reply post as well 🙂 I think we should raise awareness of how doctors should establish the rules of engagement in social media. Thanks.

  2. Pingback: What Doctors Can Do When Patients “Friend” Them on Facebook | The Endocrine Witch

  3. Pingback: How deep is a Facebook friendship? | The Endocrine Witch

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