By Debbie Myers
As the medical profession begins to dip its toe into social media, professional associations are starting to issue recommendations, particularly regarding Facebook. Last week, the British Medical Association issued new guidance to physicians advising them not to friend current or former patients on Facebook. The BMA’s recommendation is primarily targeted at protecting physicians from having their personal information accessed, thus possibly compromising the physician-patient relationship. At the same time, the Brits think it’s best that MDs also avoid getting too close a peek into their patients’ personal lives. The American Medical Association’s policy on Professionalism on the Use of Social Media doesn’t go as far as to say “don’t friend,” but it does warn physicians to use caution in posting and sharing information online.
Some physicians have jumped into social media with both feet, while others hold it at arm’s length. Kevin Pho, M.D., self-described as social media’s leading physician voice with over 36,000 followers on Twitter, encourages physicians to become smart about social media tools and says “utilizing social media properly gives physicians a powerful voice, and can help them build a positive, influential online persona.” But when it comes to Facebook, even Pho recommends that physicians adopt a “dual-citizenship” approach by creating a Facebook page for friends and family and one for professional purposes, with strict attention to monitoring privacy settings.
Interestingly, for one New York woman, it was having physicians as part of her Facebook friend network that she credits for saving her son’s life. As reported on the Today Show and on Slate.com, mother and author Deborah Copaken Kogan posted photos of her young son on Facebook when she became concerned that the rash her son had developed was more than strep or another common childhood illness. According to Kogan, within an hour of posting a picture of her son, she heard from three friends, two of whom are physicians, who advised her to take her son to the pediatrician immediately. Their diagnosis? Kawasaki disease, a rare condition in children that left untreated, could result in serious complications. Kogan says the Facebook responses were the catalyst for her to act quickly. She called her pediatrician and tests confirmed that her son had the disease.
For Kogan, her doctor friends took a risk. They provided advice, to a friend, based on their knowledge. Had Kogan been a patient, these doctors may have been reluctant to speak out. I can’t blame them. It’s a balancing act for physicians. In this litigious world we live in, doctors need to be cautious. But they can be our friends and, for me, I’ve decided I need to add a few to my Facebook network – just to be on the safe side.