Friday, August 28, 2009

Medicine in the age of Facebook

Do you have a Facebook page? If so, you may have already encountered the dilemma detailed by physician Sachin H. Jain in a recent New England Journal of Medicine essay. A former patient requested to be in his network of friends, which he accepted, forcing him to grapple with whether he should have blended his personal and his professional lives on the social networking site.

He writes, “The anxiety I felt about crossing boundaries is an old problem in clinical medicine, but it has taken a different shape as it has migrated to this new medium.”
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Indeed as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have gained popularity, users - including physicians – have had to determine how to deal with those barriers. A couple docs I talked to about Twitter for a recent podcast said they make a point not to discuss specific patients or divulge any identifying information.

The benefits of such sites are the enhanced networking, ready communication with those who share similar interests or who want to rally around the same cause.

But as Jain notes, the new medium exposes users’ personal photos, blog, posts from friends to their “walls.” This can be particularly hairy for clinicians. Jain lists a couple examples: “The MICU nurse who blogs about her experiences in dealing with a difficult patient, forgetting that one of the patient's family members — a recent addition to her network of friends — has access to her blog. Or the dermatology resident who is asked on a date by a clinic patient after he learns from her online profile that she is single — information that he would have hesitated to draw out of her in person.”

As with online rating sites, the Internet can expose both the good and the bad – and it all must be managed. Certainly, those who choose to participate in online social media should take a closer look at their profiles and set parameters for what they post and who they accept as friends.

Are you on Facebook? Ever encountered a request from a patient or had some details get you in a bind?

1 comment:

  1. 'Friending' patients? This is a silly idea. See
    We are their doctors, not their friends. Will Facebook improve their health or doctor-pt relationships?