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New guidelines set for doctors and social media

Posting in Technology

Do you feel comfortable emailing, texting, or "friend"-ing your doctor? While it might seem acceptable for you to do so, such social actions might not be appropriate for physicians to engage in with their patients. So say the American College of Physicians (ACP) and the Federation of State Medical Boards, which last week jointly issued a new set of guidelines on these types of communications.

These include the recommendations to

• Avoid text messaging for medical interactions

• Use email only within the context of a specific relationship with a patient

• Create your own strong online profile that can be found via online search before a physician rating Web page pops up

• Avoid direct emails or other online communications with non-patients (offer to make an appointment instead)

• Carefully manage your online presence in tweets, blogs, and article comment threads; the goal is to try to avoid posting non-professional photos and language

The guidelines also suggest that texting or emailing might be acceptable if with a very established patient, and then only with that patient's clear consent.

In an article that ran on the site Family Practice News, Dr. David A. Fleming, a member of the ACP Board of Regents and chairman of the ACP Ethics, Professionalism, and Human Rights Committee, offered additional details on how to explain to patients why digital channels might not be the best choice for transmitting personal health information. He's cited as saying that patients who do choose to receive details about their health via email should be made aware that information sent this way might not be secure, and that "information sent via email also can be discoverable for legal purposes."

Although these guidelines are for doctors, they can be helpful for anyone in a professional position debating whether to friend a new client or text-message a potential employee. And now patients may not have to wonder why their physician isn't texting them back.

Image: Tricia Wang/Flickr

— By on April 15, 2013, 12:21 PM PST

Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure