'Politely refuse' Facebook friend requests from patients, medical group warns

While the American Medical Association's social media guidelines released last year gently suggest that physicians "consider separating personal and professional content online" and "maintain appropriate boundaries," AMA's counterpart across the pond has issued guidance that cuts to the chase.

Within its recently published, "Using social media: practical and ethical guidance for doctors and medical students," the British Medical Association (BMA) instructs physicians to "politely refuse" Facebook friend requests from patients and urges using caution when posting on Twitter, Bloomberg reports. In addition, the BMA recommends that doctors keep their privacy settings turned on when using the websites.

The guidance also elaborates on the reasons professional boundaries must be maintained online. With regard to Facebook, the BMA says it's simply not a good idea for physician or patient to be privy to too much information about the other. Just as physicians may not want patients to be able to view their personal photographs and passing thoughts via status updates and other posts, they likewise should avoid the dilemma of learning information about patients online that isn't revealed in the office. For example, a doctor who "friends" a patient could potentially view pictures on Facebook of a pregnant patient who is drinking or smoking. As the Wall Street Journal Health Blog asks, "Is it ethical to bring it up at the next visit, even if she doesn't?"

In a recent interview with Kaiser Health News, well-known physician blogger and social media advocate Kevin Pho said he would never "friend" a patient, but he would reply to a patient on Twitter asking about a good website for breast cancer screening guidelines.

To learn more:
- read the article from Bloomberg
- see this article from the Guardian
- check out the post from the Wall Street Journal's Health Blog
- see this post from Kaiser Health News