Ano is a Justmeans staff writer for health, and an instructional designer for the newly created Master of Health Care Delivery program (mhcds.dartmouth.edu) at Dartmouth College. Ano brings over a decade of evidenced-based health research and writing, and a Masters of Public Health from Dartmouth Medical School to the Justmeans Editorial section. Special interests include health policy, conflict ...
Social media and health professionals: Would you 'Friend' your doctor?
Researchers in France surveyed 405 doctors about their Facebook tendencies, especially as they pertained to patient interaction. Perhaps there's a shortage of actual meaningful health research to be performed, but the results of this less- than- life saving research does pose some interesting questions about the nexus of health care and social media. Docs may already face potential challenges when it comes to use of email with patients, and the health industry sometimes stumbles in its forays into social media in general. But back to our French doctors, 73% of whom were on Facebook.
- 6% had received friend requests from patients. Creepy? Good setting for a 'Fatal Attraction' meets Gray's Anatomy obsession flick? Inappropriate?
-85% of the docs said they'd ignore a patients 'Friend' request regardless of who it was, 15% said they'd decide on a case-by-case basis.
-Reasons given for accepting a friend request included some slightly coercive in nature: Fear of losing a patient or embarrassing them.
-Reasons for denying the request included a sense that it was unprofessional, or the patient had romantic intentions.
Naturally whether a doctor accepts or rejects a friend request may also have little to do with health care, but rather what they use Facebook for. In cases where it's Doctors Gone Wild, then naturally they're likely loathe to let patients in. But in cases where a Facebook site is more professional in nature, or a place to share fly-fishing tales, there's probably less discomfort with letting a patient or two have a visit.
Is there some protocol that shouldn't be breached in the doctor- patient relationship in terms of socializing, or social media relations? Or is there value in removing the white-coated mystique of social and professional stature that surrounds doctors so that we view them as people with human characteristics including compassion, the potential to err, and prone to the occasional bad day. Al Mulley, director of the Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science, himself a doctor and long-time deep-thinker about health and health care, talks about the importance of "democratizing health care innovation." Part of what this involves is hearing the voices of the crowd, not just that of the clinician who is often held above the masses as the font of knowledge. Social media is certainly a good tool for hearing from the crowd. When the doctor ventures "into the crowd" using social media, could this contribute to the democratization of health care as well?
Are there other professions where a Facebook friendship would be questionable on ethical grounds? Teachers perhaps? Is it the potential for a power gradient to exist in the relationships in question?
Certainly following your doctors twitter feed isn't likely to stir controversy since that's a very public media. So where does the line get drawn?
What's your take, would you ever friend your doc, or other health care practitioner?