The Promise and Peril of Social Media

Sep 28, 2011, 12:00 PM, Posted by

A study released earlier this month finds that doctors are increasingly using social media to interact with other doctors, through online physician communities. More than 65 percent of physicians use social media for professional purposes, according to the study conducted by QuantiaMD and the Care Continuum Alliance.

But doctors are still hesitant to use social media to interact with patients, the study reports. Although nearly 90 percent of the physicians surveyed use at least one site for personal use, three-quarters of the physicians who say a patient tried to “friend” them on Facebook declined or ignored the request.

Only 11 percent of physicians reported that they were familiar with one or more online patient communities. “While a group of 60 - 80 percent of physicians see the potential for a wide range of physician-patient online interactions, this level of interest is notably lower than for physician-physician interactions,” the study says.

Many professional health care organizations have taken note of these trends and issued guidelines on appropriate social media use.

The American Medical Association adopted a social media policy last year that, among other recommendations, suggests separating personal and professional content, using privacy settings, and being conscious of patient confidentiality and privacy.

The Principles for Social Networking and the Nurse: Guidance for the Registered Nurse, released by the American Nurses Association (ANA), also emphasizes patient confidentiality, and professional and ethical standards. The organization recently hosted a day-long Facebook discussion and Twitter chat on social media issues, and will host a social media webinar in October.

"The principles are informed by professional foundational documents including the Code of Ethics for Nurses and standards of practice,” ANA President Karen A. Daley, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, said. “Nurses and nursing students have an obligation to understand the nature, benefits and potential consequences of participating in social networking.”

What do you think? What should health care professionals consider when using social media? Should they use it to interact with patients? Register below to leave a comment.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.