Health Care Providers Use Different Strategies on Social Media Sites

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Health care providers are pursuing different approaches as they seek to establish a social media presence, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Social Media Use Among Physicians

According to the Journal, physicians are using social media to:

  • Engage with patients and other physicians; and
  • Relay useful health messages to the public.

Some physicians report using professional physician networks or social media tools offered by their employer, while others are communicating with patients through personal social media accounts on websites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Jake Varghese -- a family physician in Georgia -- said that he communicates with patients through a portal and other tools provided by his employer. He said that he would not feel comfortable "friending" a patient through his personal Facebook page.

However, Jen Brull -- a family physician in Kansas -- said that she is comfortable with becoming Facebook friends with patients who are her friends offline. She added that she is willing to give those patients medical advice through the website because it fits with the way she practices medicine.

Meanwhile, Mark Ryan -- a family physician in Virginia -- said that he does not mind patients following him on Twitter even though his updates sometimes reflect his views on political issues related to health care. He said if patients choose to seek him out on Twitter, it is their choice to learn about his personal views.

Concerns About Online Physician Behavior

Physicians' willingness to engage with patients through social media outlets has raised concerns about protecting patient privacy and maintaining appropriate professional boundaries.

Some professional organizations have released guidance about online behaviors that could be considered inappropriate for physicians. For example, a recent survey of state medical board officers published in last month's Annals of Internal Medicine examines online actions that likely would result in an investigation of a physician (Wilde Mathews, Wall Street Journal, 2/4).

According to the survey, online behaviors that would "likely" or "very likely" result in an investigation of a physician include:

  • Misrepresenting treatment outcomes, with 81% of respondents saying that such action would trigger an investigation;
  • Posting patient images online without consent, cited by 79% of respondents; and
  • Misrepresenting credentials, cited by 77% of respondents (iHealthBeat, 1/16).

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