Navigating the waters of doctors and patients on social media is choppy. But why is that?
Engagement between a doctor and patient is important to treatment, but [frankly] any social encounter has the potential to cross the line. I know that’s a cynical way to frame it, but it’s true. Independent to issues of doctor/patient confidentiality, there are so many HIPPA violations that could suddenly spill into their public interactions.
I’m not saying doctors are so careless to allow something like that to happen, but it has just as much to do with the patient and what he/she says. Public engagement can be a dangerous two-way street for doctors and their patients. Naturally, the same is true for doctors and patients on social media.
There aren’t any rules governing how patients and doctors engage on a social network. Just as there are no American Medical Association (AMA) guidelines on how a doctor should deal with a concerned parent who approaches them at a cross-country meet, there will likely never be actionable and practical guidelines that direct doctors to the seemingly limitless situations they face in the public space.
It’s a tough situation for a physician to be in, I’d assume. Should you follow/engage with any of your patients on Twitter or Facebook? I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think I would actively seek out my patients to follow. Now, if my OB started following me on Twitter, I don’t think I’d be super creeped out by that. BUT I can definitely see how someone else might think it is strange. And that makes me wonder: are doctors dammed if they do and damned if they don’t when it comes to social media engagement?
Of course, I advocate for mass SM engagement between the practitioner and his audience, but it takes on a new meaning when it comes to one-on-one interaction between a doctor and a patient. It becomes less than the position of one expert sharing his/her expertise with his/her SM following.
On an individual level, one patient might want that online relationship with his/her doctor for an added level of accessibility, but one might want the relationship to end at the checkout window. It’s no wonder doctors are confused when it comes to their online voice. I feel your pain and I wish there was an easy answer.
I suspect most doctors won’t ever have a written Twitter policy on who they should follow. That’s ridiculous. Let’s just face the fact that every social relationship is different and those participating need and want different things.
The Bottom Line: Some patients might want to engage with you on social media. Others might think it’s creepy. Use your expertise to make those choices and be aware that your profession carries some weight on social media.
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