Thursday, August 13, 2009

Physicans and Patients Connecting on Facebook?

One of my first faculty social media skeptics sent me this wonderful article from the New England Journal of Medicine. In the article a doctor talks about the perception versus the reality of physicians who connect with their patients on Facebook. Dr. Jain starts out by describing the initial "anxiety felt about crossing boundaries" as an "an old problem in clinical medicine but it has taken a different shape as it has migrated to this new medium."

I think that this is an emotion that any professional in any discipline feels when considering social media use. When it comes down to it we all have a life outside of our profession, and not everyone is comfortable mixing those worlds. Many of our relationships at work are very surface in nature. We ask about the kids or what the weekend has in store as a courtesy. How much of your life do you really want to share with coworkers or patients? What if your opinions, affiliations or extracurricular activities are not popular or comfortable to discuss outside of your circle of friends and family? Do you censor yourself?

This may be even more daunting for physicians. "During medical training, the importance of maintaining professional distance — however much one desires to have a close, meaningful relationship with one's patients — is taught by educators and reinforced by the use of beepers and paging services meant to shield physicians from their patients." So how does a physician participate in conversations with their patients while still maintain a safe distance?

At my hospital I have the pleasure of working with a one very creative physician who has decided to create a fan page. (See his fan page) He wants to be available on Facebook and share information without opening his personal presence to patients. We don't know yet if this is the right answer but it does allow him the freedom to try Facebook for patient interaction with a little more control over the level of interaction.

I think it is too soon to tell if there is any real danger of adding patients as fans on Facebook, but it seems that the perceived danger has felt real enough to keep many physicians from embracing it fully. If the fan page approach turns out to have benefit to our faculty member we will post the results either to this blog or to the blog for the hospital.


Aaron said...

Great, we've had that discussion before here as well. Will be very interested in the results.

Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

I read the NEJM article on 'friending' a patient on Facebook. I don't see the controversy. It seems to me to be an obvious blunder move. What's the up side? I give up. See