Written by Bella Dalima
14 Dec, 2013 | 5:36 pm
The doctor-patient relationship can be a close one – but can that relationship be extended into social media?
Whether you embrace it or not, the vast majority of people use social media as part of their everyday lives.
There are undoubted benefits as social media offers a platform for doctors to network effectively, share views and develop their own knowledge and expertise. For patients engaging with social media, it can educate and raise awareness by giving them greater access to healthcare information. But if you would trust your doctor with your life, could you be their Facebook friend?
On the face of it, it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable question – or request.
However, patients interacting with their doctors on social media may inadvertently create an uncomfortable and awkward situation.
It also risks blurring the boundaries in the doctor-patient relationship which could impact on the quality of care they receive.
Patients should consider that doctors are bound by guidance from the General Medical Council which states that you should not mix social and professional relationships and that: “Social media can blur the boundaries between a doctor’s personal and professional life and may change the nature of the relationship between a doctor and a patient.”
The rise of social media has created some serious ethical challenges for doctors and their relationship with patients.
Even with the proper privacy settings in place, anything posted online may end up being distributed further than intended.
Doctors must keep their relationship with patients professional, or they risk becoming too close which can cloud their judgement and affect their objectivity and clinical decision making.
While Facebook often gives an insight into a person’s private life, Twitter is more likely to be used in a professional manner, with many doctors discussing healthcare issues via a tweet of 140 characters or less.
However, when tweeting, doctors should ensure patient confidentiality and only share information on Twitter that cannot be linked to an individual patient.
Doctors and patients should recognise the unique nature of their relationship.
Patients trust their doctors with information they may not have shared with any of their family or friends. Doctors have a duty to respect this information and keep it confidential.
Patients should appreciate the need to keep things professional with their doctor and understand that social media can complicate or alter the nature of that relationship.
Patients should feel comfortable in sharing their personal information and their health with their doctors – but not their Facebook status.
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