How doctors can use Facebook responsibly

How doctors can use Facebook responsiblyI was quoted recently in the New York Times’ Well blog, in a Danielle Ofri piece on Facebook and doctors.

There’s no question that Facebook has been a minefield of sorts for the medical professions, with infractions ranging from unprofessional conduct by medical students to patient privacy violations by attending physicians.

One solution would be for doctors to simply avoid Facebook altogether for personal use.

In fact, that’s the approach that Dr. Ofri takes:

I’ve decided to limit my online presence to the professional side of my life, keeping personal information off the Web …

… This means letting go of the fun and casual side of social media, but I think that’s simply part of the territory of being a doctor. It’s the same reason I don’t wear flip-flops and shorts to work, much as I’d surely love to. Giving up posting vacation pictures doesn’t seem like a particularly high price.

That seems a bit drastic to me. There’s no reason why doctors can’t participate in the social benefits that Facebook has to offer.

Here’s one solution. I embrace the “dual-citizenship” approach, recently discussed in an Annals of Internal Medicine perspective piece. With Facebook in particular, limit your personal profile to friends and family. These are people who can follow your personal, day-to-day happenings, pictures and video. Patients should not be allowed access to this personal profile.

Most importantly, go to your privacy settings and ensure what you share is exposed to your personal circle only.
How doctors can use Facebook responsibly

Then, set up a separate Facebook page that serves as your public persona that patients can view. This page needs to be HIPAA compliant and professionally self-aware.

And finally, I would check your privacy settings once a week.

With these steps in mind, physicians can enjoy the social interaction Facebook has to offer, and stay out of professional danger.

 is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today.  He is founder and editor of, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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  • Dial Doctors

    Although it seems like a hassle I agree that doctors need to take certain precautions on social media. Changing your settings is very simple and I do it all the time even to non-patients. I simply don’t feel inclined to let EVERYONE I have on Facebook to see all my business. I agree a second page would be a very good idea specially if you make it a nonfriend Facebook page(I’m sure it has a real name but this is what I call pages for bands, businesses, ect. You can only like them instead of friending them) Aaron Karo, owner and author of , learned that you will need a second page. He quickly reached the 5,000 friend limit and just chose to do a second page.

  • Dr. N. H. Sarja

    Nice post, actually I’ve already done the same thing few months ago.

    I got add request from different people at facebook whom I don’t know, for them and for the people who want to know my health and few personal updates I started my personal page!

    for Doctors facebook personal page is very important!

  • Matthew Mintz, MD

    Another (though more complicated way) to do this is to create groups for all of your “friends.” In addition to groups like “college friends”, “family” and “colleagues” you can create a “patients” group. This allows you to control who sees your status updates. You also need to limit the information/content that any of your “friends” see. I use the “office approach”, i.e. I don’t post any pictures/information to Facebook that I wouldn’t want a patient to see if they were sitting in my office.

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