Should patients talk with their doctors using social media?

As both patients and doctors find themselves increasingly on Twitter and Facebook, more are wondering whether they should be talking to one another using social networking outlets.

This issue has come up before, most recently when the New England Journal of Medicine asked whether doctors should friend their patients on Facebook.

Pediatrician Bryan Vartabedian looks further at the issue, and sees it fraught with potential risk.

He points out that sharing privileged information requires written consent. But what if the patient initiates the conversation? Some attorneys say that can imply consent, but the laws in this area are not yet clear.

Also, every communication between doctor and patient needs to be documented. Dr. Vartabedian notes that “the documentation on most social platforms isn’t detailed enough for other medical professionals or auditors to follow what’s gone on between you and your caregiver [and] let’s not forget that Twitter has a habit of disappearing after a couple of weeks.”

And perhaps most concerning is the privacy issue. When someone shares personal medical information in a public forum, like Twitter or a Facebook page, it has to potential to get indexed by search engines, making it permanent on the web.

There’s tremendous potential for doctors to better use Twitter and Facebook to interact with patients. By guiding patients to reputable sources of medical information, for instance.

But social media isn’t mature enough for doctors to provide personal medical advice to patients. Yet.

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