When it comes to doctors and social media, hospitals fail miserably

When it comes to medicine and social media, much of the attention is negative.

Doctors losing their hospital privileges because of Facebook.

Or other health care workers taking pictures of patients and posting them on the web.

It’s no wonder that many hospitals are taking a heavy handed approach when it comes to their doctors and social media.

Consider this story, Doctors warned not to use social media with patients:

Stanford University School of Medicine student Matt Goldstein, who graduates in June and has accepted a position at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, says the hospital specifically stated in a letter to him that it would like him to refrain from using social media with patients. Goldstein also says the letter he got told him he should change his privacy settings on Facebook, if he used it at all, to optimize privacy.

“The letter said the patient may try to ‘friend’ you, but we suggest you don’t accept,” said Goldstein. The letter also suggested he “review photos” he might have posted online anywhere in the interests of establishing an online identity as a medical professional.

First of all, let me say that this is perfectly legitimate advice.

Doctors shouldn’t friend patients on Facebook.

They should review their privacy settings and as well as the public status of their photos.

But after reading this article, doctors may come away with the message that they shouldn’t use social media to interact with patients at all.  And that may be enough to prevent them from ever dipping their toes into the social media waters.

And that’s wrong.

Did the Brigham let Dr. Goldstein know that it is appropriate to make a separate Facebook page, where he can interact with patients as a whole, perhaps by sharing articles or health information from reputable medical websites?

Did they provide the appropriate online professionalism resources to guide their incoming class of residents on how to navigate social media?  Or teach them how a Facebook page or LinkedIn profile can proactively define their online presence?

I can’t say for sure, but it seems they’re taking the approach that many hospitals take: Doctors are better off staying away from social media when it comes to connecting with patients.  And that’s a losing strategy.

Nuance is needed when it comes to the medical profession and social media. Just telling doctors to “stay away from patients on social media” is a lazy approach, and both doctors and patients will be worse off for it.

Kevin Pho is co-author of Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. He is founder and editor of KevinMD.com, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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