Social media raises new ethical issues for docs

Doc computer

The enormous amount of healthcare information available on the internet and the potential for viral posts on social media raise a new set of ethical quandaries for practicing physicians, according to an article in Pediatrics.

These online phenomena make strong doctor-patient relationships more important than ever to ensure fair and appropriate care delivery for all, Chris Feudtner, M.D., director of medical ethics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and one of the article’s authors, tells Reuters Health.

“Clinicians should ask about what patients and families have read on the internet, and then work through that information thoughtfully,” he says in the article. It’s important that doctors spend the time and energy to proactively address the information patients may have sought out about their care, he adds, both to help them negotiate that information and to build trust.

In addition to exposing patients to large amounts of unfiltered medical information, online and social media outlets can also change the way doctors and patients interact, sometimes to the detriment of the doctor-patient relationship, says Feudtner. Practices need to walk a fine line when interacting with patients on social media, preferably by setting and following a set of intelligent guidelines for those interactions to ensure doctors don’t inadvertently commit ethical lapses, as FiercePracticeManagement has previously reported.

Situations involving viral posts on social media can be particularly troublesome, says Feudtner. He gave the example of a hypothetical child cancer patient using blog posts and online petitions to gain media coverage and attempt to get into an experimental clinical trial, even though none accepted new patients at the time. Such cases create pressure on medical staff and unfairness among patients, not all of whom have equal access to, or success with, the social media platforms that may influence their care, according to the article.

- read the Reuters story
- here’s the Pediatrics article