Should doctors be Facebook ‘friends’ with patients?

The Los Angeles Times | January 3 – Should doctors be Facebook “friends” with their patients? Increasingly, professionals are stroking their beards and mulling the ethical ramifications (not to say potential for awkwardness) of such relationships.

Goodbye to posting “Man, I tied one on last night” the morning of the day you’re due to operate on someone. Farewell to blowing off steam about old Mr. XX, whose endless digestive issues drive you nuts: Loose words like that could come back to bite you even worse than accepting a “friend” request from some ex from those long-ago days when you were young and foolish.

To find out how many doctors use the accounts, as well as their thoughts on this issue, French researchers surveyed 405 residents and fellows at Rouen University Hospital. Of the 202 respondents:

Seventy-three percent had a Facebook profile, the vast majority with their own names, photos and birthdates, etc., and a lot of them with their current place of employment also noted; 85% said they would automatically decline a “friend” request from a patient; but 15% would “consider” the request; eight users (6%) had actually received a friend request from a patient — and of those, four had accepted them.

This seems to imply that doctors may be more apt to agree to friend a patient when confronted with the awkwardness of a real request than the survey numbers imply. Seventy-six percent thought the doctor-patient relationship would be affected if patients had open access to the doctor’s account. And, finally, 93% didn’t feel that doctors should be prohibited from having Facebook accounts.

“Careful reflection is needed to define better the implications of electronic communication media on the traditional role of doctors and on the new aspects of medical professionalism,” the authors boldly conclude. The article was published in the Journal of Medical Ethics; here’s the full study.

More mulling on the “how will Facebook affect the medical profession” question to be found at this Booster Shots blog by my colleague Karen Kaplan.


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