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Will Your Doctor Be Your Next Facebook Friend?

Will Your Doctor Be Your Next Facebook Friend?

Many of us share things with our doctors that we may not divulge to anyone else. The patient/doctor relationship can be one of the most intimate relationships we have, because honestly who else are we going to tell about our bathroom habits or ask to have a look at that hard to reach mole?

But have you ever considered adding your doctor to the long list of social media ‘friends’ you may have? Adding your doctor as a Facebook friend may or may not sound like your cup of tea, but some new guidelines are relaxing the rules a little to allow doctors to decide for themselves whether they want to be your Facebook friend. And with this comes a host of other questions regarding privacy and how much is too much to share over social media.

CNN reports about the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists latest move to refrain from placing specific social media guidelines on doctors. They have decided to leave it in the doctor’s hands whether or not they wish to befriend a patient online. One of the authors of the new guidelines, Nathaniel DeNicola, explains why he feels it should be left to the doctor and patient to decide. He says, “If the physician or healthcare provider trusts the relationships enough ... we didn't feel like it was appropriate to really try to outlaw that.”

The idea of medical practices having Facebook pages dedicated to sharing health advice and tips is nothing new, but a doctor’s personal account is generally not made public to patients due to the past discouragement from groups like American College of Physicians and American Academy of Family Physicians. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need. A study from the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that 20% of patients have attempted to contact their doctors via Facebook and another 40% have attempted to reach them via email.

The convenience factor is key when it comes to patients reaching doctors through the internet, but what about privacy? Are platforms like Facebook secure enough to exchange personal medical information? James Colbert, a hospitalist at Massachusetts-based Newton Wellesley Hospital, explains the struggle doctors face when speaking with patients online. He says, “Should we allow patients to be able to share or send messages without going through these privacy safeguards if they're willing to do so? Or do we say that that's not safe and even if patients don't care about privacy we need to protect them? That's an open question.”

What do you think of the new guidelines that have relaxed the rules regarding doctor/patient relationships on Facebook?

Would you consider adding your doctor to your Facebook friends and would you feel comfortable talking about your health via social media or email?

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