Is it OK for Doctors to Use Social Media?

  With Twitter breaking the 20 billion tweet record, social media has shown it is becoming the way for people to communicate.  Businesses are using sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others to get their messages across.  Doctors have traditionally been slow to get into some forms of advertising.  Some feel it doesn’t seem professional.  Others just don’t have the time.  However, there are some things that social media could offer for many physicians such as ability to stay in contact with patients, answering common questions, possible virtual visits, and a general enhanced patient relationship.  

    The question may be where to draw the line?   Is it OK to offer medical information online if there is a demand for it?  The New York Times reported: a survey by Pew Internet and American Life Project reported 61% of Americans will go online for health information.   Doctors are looking for guidance as to what is acceptable in terms of how close of a relationship is deemed appropriate in terms of communication.  This has lead to the first set of guidelines ever published on using e-mail in patient care.   Anonymity is a huge issue when dealing with patients and HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).  HIPAA was devised partly to ensure protecting the privacy of Americans’ personal health records by protecting the security and confidentiality of health care information.

    However, helpful information can be shared through social media if it is general in nature and doesn’t involve specific patient information.  Mayo clinic is even tweeting these days.  Are you ready to be friends with your physician on Facebook? Are there better avenues such as LinkedIn or other more professional sites where contact would be a better option?  Michael Lara, MD recently stated that he felt there are 5 social medial tools for physicians that he considers helpful:

  1.  Facebook Practice Page
  2. Google Reader for Medical Articles and News
  3. YouTube Channel for Patient Education Library
  4. Twitter for Connecting with Colleagues
  5. Practice Blog 

    I know a lot of physicians from my 15 years being a pharmaceutical representative and being married to a plastic surgeon.  From my experience, I see that they have a lot on their plates; learning social media may not be a priority for them.  That is not to say they may not benefit from hiring a social media manager.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see which of your messages gets through to your physician in a timelier manner some day. . . the message you sent where you had to sit on the phone system listening to the recording asking you to push 1 for appointment desk, 2 for billing . . .  or the message that you tweeted to them quickly from your iphone . . .

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