Long ago, in the days before social media was known as social media and before most hospitals had even thought about having guidelines for them (2009 to be precise), a researcher presented a small survey showing some doctors at a major Canadian city were lurking on online disease-specific communities to get what they felt was a better view of how their patients were doing.
This just seems wrong and could be attributed to the lack of guidance physicians had around appropriate use of social media in those bygone days. But the truth is the whole area of what is appropriate when it comes to a health care provider monitoring a patient on social media platforms is one that is rarely addressed in guidelines about social media use.
Is it wrong for a physician to look at a patient’s publicly accessible social media profile and posts and if so why, especially if patients are encouraged to research and interact with their physicians online?
This topic received a good airing in April during a #hcsm tweet chat and the responses came down more against doctors checking up on their patient.
Some of those responses:
- Makes me uneasy. Docs should only use info patients provide & nothing they discover through a digital footprint: Dangerous territory
- I don’t see an ethical issue with it. It’s public information. Secure what you don’t want public
- There may be pertinent information there, but I must/should trust that patients will tell me what I need to know to help provide care.
- Have no interest or time to go down that road
- If I believe in a trusting doctor/patient relationship, checking out my patient’s digital presence seems out of bounds and hopefully
While many are urging patients and the public to interact with physicians and other providers online, few address the issues of how this could impact on the physician-patient relationship.
If a patient profile or comments on social media can provide a more comprehensive (but possibly misleading) perspective of the patient that may aid in improving care, should a conscientious physician limit himself or herself to only the information disclosed in a face-to-face clinical encounter?
Of course, this is a moot point for busy clinicians as most will tell you they have absolutely no time to be conducting online searches of their patients.
But as we see more and more interactions between physicians and the public or their patients in social media spaces and outside clinical encounter, it’s another facet of just how social media is posing questions that may have no easy answers.