To Friend or Not to Friend?


Social networking is nothing new, but with more doctors logging on, it is important to recognize the inherent professional risks.

To help their physicians manage their online reputations, the British Medical Association recently issued social media guidelines reminding their doctors that "ethical and legal duties apply just as much on the Internet as when they are offline." U.S.-based physicians are also encouraged to take precautions.

As a mentor for young hospitalists, Paul Grant, MD, assistant professor at University of Michigan Health System and chair of the SHM Early Career Hospitalist committee, agrees that while there is value in using sites like Facebook and Twitter, it's important to keep the conversation professional.

"While the issue of patient friend requests is probably more common with long-term-care physicians, our group has been encouraged to be aware of our Internet profiles, and to Google ourselves periodically to see what’s out there," he says. Dr. Grant admits he occasionally receives requests from colleagues, but he declines.

"That's the nice thing about Facebook: You treat it like you would any other relationship," says Glenn Lombardi, president of Officite, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based medical website and web-marketing firm that manages more than 1,000 Facebook accounts for medical practices. "You share certain things with certain people, and it's not anything bigger that that."

Lombardi and Dr. Grant offer the following social-networking tips:

  1. Maintain privacy. Don't accept personal friend requests from patients or colleagues.
  2. Be proactive. Have a search-engine-optimized website. Make sure your patients know it's the best place to go for information.
  3. Wait on trends. New social-networking sites, such as Google+, have great potential, Lombardi says, but it is better to see what experts identify as their best and safest purposes before creating a profile.

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