Survey: Most Physicians Would Decline Friend Requests From Patients

Although most young physicians use Facebook, few say they would accept a patient's request to be their Facebook friend, according to a new study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, MedPage Today reports.

For the study, researchers surveyed 160 residents and 42 fellows of Rouen University Hospital in France about their Facebook use. The mean age of survey participants was 29.

The survey found that about 73% of respondents said they had Facebook profiles.

About 85% of respondents said they would deny a patient's request to be their Facebook friend, while 15% said they would consider adding a patient on an individual basis. Factors in the decision to accept a request included:

  • "Feeling an affinity with the patient";
  • Fear of embarrassing the patient;
  • Losing the patient's confidence; or
  • Losing the patient altogether (Fiore, MedPage Today, 12/16).

Although 93% of respondents thought physicians should be allowed to have Facebook profiles, 82% said physicians should limit their profile access (Moubarak et al., Journal of Medical Ethics, 12/15).

Physician-Patient Relationship

About half of respondents said they believed the physician-patient relationship would be altered if a patient discovered his or her physician was a Facebook member.

About 76% of participants thought the relationship would change only if the patient could view the physician's profile.

Facebook Etiquette Recommendations

To help physicians navigate the social network, the researchers offered several Facebook etiquette recommendations. They recommended that physicians:

  • Decline patient friend requests;
  • Not interact with patients online unless it directly pertains to patient care;
  • Be aware that online postings can be misinterpreted;
  • Use "caution and restraint" when listing information online; and
  • Acquaint themselves with privacy settings (MedPage Today, 12/16).

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