By Dawn Cranfield
Doctors Joining the Digital Age of Social Media… But Should They?
Remember when a trip to the doctor was a personal experience between you and your physician and you could rest assured anything you said to him was going to be kept confidential? Those were the days when your physician could also feel confident that if he was a “he” then he could give a woman her gynecological examination without the necessity of a “witness” in the room. However, those days are long gone and, like so many other professions, healthcare and those at the heart of the business are growing up in a digital age where communication is truncated to 140 characters or to a string of letters and numbers.
While some may be totally stoked (okay, I may be dating myself here) about the idea of communicating with their physician via Facebook, email, or text, industry professionals are warning doctors to use extreme caution when moving forward with the practice.
The latest guidelines urge doctors not to connect with patients on Facebook under any circumstances, they recommend using email only with those who understand the potential loss of privacy, and they go on to say they should use “extreme caution” if they make the decision to text a patient. Texting and email are not secure and a physician has no way to determine who is picking up those messages.
However, the experts responsible for the guidelines at the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Boards believe there is a benefit for the digital connection between doctor and patient.
Humayun Chaudhry is the President and CEO of the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) is in favor of more physicians using social media, “Used appropriately, a doctor’s professional Facebook page or blog can provide a wealth of information to patients, including links to reputable health websites and the doctor’s take on health stories that are in the news. Doctors also need to use e-mail and other forms of personal electronic communication, because that’s where the patients are.” (usatoday.com)
Still, the group does warn doctors to use the practice with caution and maintain their professionalism with patients. They advise them against posting pictures of themselves on vacation or at parties drinking or with scantily clad friends; a good idea for everyone wanting to maintain a professional image.
Another risk involved for doctors is for the potential to either inadvertently or intentionally offer medical advice, over the internet. A well-intentioned or inexperienced physician may find themselves at the center of controversy or inundated with further questions.
In the end, I can understand that doctors are younger and have grown up with an iPhone in their hands (they were probably handed one at birth), they no doubt tweeted their MCAT scores to one another, but I cannot get over the thought of my doctor texting me, “RU OK?”