Redrawing doctor-patient relationships in a digital age

By Matt Kuhrt

Doctors have never been in full agreement regarding how sharply the boundary between patient and friend ought to be drawn. The increasing ubiquity of social media profiles has brought the age-old issue back to the fore and complicated it further, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.

Healthcare is personal, sometimes a literal matter of life and death. It makes sense that a patient might seek out a personal relationship with a doctor, and it makes sense that doctors would care deeply enough about their patients to reach out to them in ways that are more human than clinical.

The reality turns out to be a bit more complicated, however. Physicians' disclosing personal information in a bid to put patients at ease or bond with them doesn't typically work as planned, according to the article. For example, a 2007 study looked into doctors making such disclosures and found that 85 percent of them weren't considered "useful" to patients, WSJ noted.

If that approach doesn't work in person, it's hard to imagine it faring any better in the more convenient, but simultaneously more remote world of social media. Not surprisingly, professional and medical organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have released updated guidelines for digital interactions with patients. The main thrust of the recommendations has been to direct physicians to keep their professional persona at the fore when interacting on social media, and, often, to think twice about using the platform in the first place.

Eschewing social media entirely is probably overkill, as FiercePracticeManagement has previously reported. Provided doctors use social media wisely, treating digital interaction with the same professional demeanor they would show in public in the physical world, they may find that its use can enhance their practice.

To learn more:
- read the article in the Wall Street Journal
- read the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opinion paper