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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.


Photo by birgerking 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.… 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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