Welcome to the Digital Age, particularly the era of social media, where we now post GIFs and pictures of virtual cakes on their walls instead of sending them an actual birthday cake; where we scroll through friends’ photos online instead of getting direct updates from them; where we have more intense discussions about the Kardashians on online forums instead of meeting up in person. With social media being so ubiquitous, it is inevitable for it to have brought vast changes to how doctors interact with their patients as well.

The Doctor You See and the Person Unmasked By Social Media

As with any change, it would be smarter to embrace it and adapt to it, rather than fight it. Social media has a formidable presence, and it would be foolish to carelessly disregard the potential it holds for the medical field.

Social media has been quoted to be a valuable tool in the sharing of information with fellow physicians. It allows the possibility of group interactions among colleagues that would otherwise be constrained by time and distance. Overcoming the barriers of the spatial-temporal construct has enabled the facilitation of discussions regarding important medical matters. Through platforms such as Twitter, doctors and medical organizations can send bite-sized medical updates to their followers.

Regardless of the benefits, it is important to keep in mind that social media is a double-edged sword. The downside of social media are considerable, ranging from infringement of privacy, to questionable credibility of information online. So while access to information about doctors and their professional backgrounds might be easy online, any negative experiences, comments etc. regarding those doctors are also bared open to all.

Let’s face it; the line between professionalism and personal space tends to vanish on social media. Befriending a patient on sites such as Facebook or Myspace may be an act of attempting to maintain rapport, but it also starts blurring the lines of the doctor-patient relationship. Traditionally, doctors try and avoid personal contact with patients beyond matters of their health in order to maintain a professional relationship. Self-expression is suppressed, and divulging personal information is avoided at best.

However, when patients and doctors are ‘friends’ on social media platforms like Facebook, they are privy to personal information that could easily be misinterpreted and misappropriated. The mere picture of having a beer may give the impression that the doctor is an alcoholic. Monitoring the amount of information posted online and maintaining a good social media presence tends to be tricky. The potential impact this has, has the capability of violating professionalism.

Where Should You Draw The Line?

The issues with social media have been a problem for doctors for some time now, especially after the increase in their use and popularity amongst masses. Rules of etiquette regarding patient interaction have evolved, and will continue to do so. Guidelines need to thus be established to help doctors deal with any extraordinary circumstances that might compromise their professional relationship with patients due to their social media presence.

Doctors are human too. What they do in their personal time should really not be of any concern to others, unless there is reasonable cause to believe that it might have a negative impact on their work. Unfortunately, being a person who is responsible for saving the lives of otherscomes with a certain image. Doctors cannot exactly blame patients for scrutinizing them since they are essentially entrusting their health to their hands.

This is why it is really important to ensure that doctors keep their personal lives confidential and strictly away from patients. Securing privacy settings and following hospital management’s guidelines regarding social media behavior, are just a couple of examples on how doctors can safeguard both theirs and their patients’ interests without short-changing anyone in the process. MIMS