How doctors can use Facebook responsibly


I 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.

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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