One of the groups I’m involved with is the Physicians’ Electronic Health Record Coalition, or the PEHRC (pehrc.wordpress.com). Recently we were honored to have as our guest Dr. Humayan Chaudhry who is the CEO and President of the Federation of State and Medical Boards (FSMB). His organization is responsible for coordinating physician activity in the United States to help maximize patient safety. One of the subjects he discussed at our meeting is the huge increase in the use of social media by patients and by physicians, and how this practice is changing the way we practice medicine.
According to a recent survey, 87% of physicians use a social media website for personal use and 67% for professional use. Also 35% of physicians have received Facebook friend requests from a patient and 16% have visited an online profile of a patient. Of the physicians who have received friend requests from a patient, 58% said they always rejected them. Some physicians feel that “friending” a patient through a personal Facebook page crosses the line between a professional and a personal relationship.
Dr Chaudhry’s group, the FSMB, has published guidelines for the appropriate use of social media in medical practice. Physicians are discouraged from interacting with patients on personal social networking sites like Facebook and physicians should never discuss treatment with patients on a personal social networking site. Information that could identify patients should never be provided. Patient privacy and confidentiality must be protected at all times. Physicians are encouraged to use separate personal and professional social media networking sites.
I think these guidelines make good sense. Social media have confused the distinctions between personal and professional identities. Some healthy separation is in order. So, if you are a patient, please don’t send me a request to be your Facebook friend. I’m honored to be your doctor, but I can’t cross the line between professional and personal by being your Facebook friend as well.