Should doctors friend their patients on Facebook?

As more physicians are on social networking sites. that’s an issue that some are grappling with.

The NEJM has a nice perspective piece on the issue. After realizing that a recent friend request came from a former patient, Sachin Jain thinks about the ramifications.

Dr. Jain writes that, “In confirming this patient as my “friend” on Facebook, I was merging my professional and personal lives. From my Facebook page, Ms. Baxter could identify and reach anyone in my network of friends, view an extensive collection of personal photographs, read my personal blog, and review notations that others had left on my “wall.” The anxiety I felt about crossing boundaries is an old problem in clinical medicine, but it has taken a different shape as it has migrated to this new medium.”

More concerning, some doctors have information that may conflict with their professional appearance on Facebook, including, “the medical attending whose clinical judgment is questioned because of photographs posted online, showing him in progressive stages of apparent inebriation at a department holiday party.”  That’s just unwise.

The bottom line is that doctors have to beware of what they write on social networking sites, and who they share it with. With Facebook specifically, it may be reasonable to have two separate profiles, one to share pictures and other personal information with friends and family, and another page (for instance, like the Fan page of this blog) that can be dedicated to professional use.