The other day Eric Widera and I were teaching a course to the medical students about writing for social media outlets like Twitter and GeriPal. One of the students asked us if a patient had ever contacted us online – my answer was no, I think Eric said he discovered a caregiver’s blog. We’ve mostly been able to duck this issue so far, but it’s only a matter of time.
A new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine adds some empirical data to this issue. In a survey of medical students, residents, and practicing physicians:
- 15% of practicing physicians had visited the online profile of a patient or family member
- 28% of practicing physicians were aware of a patient or family member visiting their personal site
- 35% of practicing physicians had received a “friend” request from a patient or family member
- 5% of practicing physicians had requested to be a “friend” with a patient or family member
- 22% of all respondents felt it was ethically acceptable for physicians to visit the online profiles of patients within personal online social networking sites.
Now the response rate to this survey was low, so these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. It may be that those with experience using social media to interact with patients were most interested in completing the survey. Nonetheless, this is an issue that is not going away.
Where should the boundaries be between professional and private lives of clinicians and their patients? What are your experiences? What are our obligations for professionalism in online social networks?
by: Alex Smith