Social media, patients, and physicians: a sticky wicket

Social media is well established in our society and it shows much promise as a tool of patient-physician communication. But despite some cases of good and enriching rapport between patients and physicians in social media, the medical world, on the whole, is still cautiously trying to make sense of social media and how to use it responsibly. and the Journal of Participatory Medicine (JoPM) have been reporting from the front lines of this controversial topic.

The Journal just published a letter from a medical researcher/patient who poses the question, “Why Can’t We Protect Doctors Who Put Patients First?” The incident that spurred the letter was the British Medical Association’s recent publication of a “guidance” on doctor-patient communication via social media, which in effect ended the author’s friendly, enriching, non-clinical Facebook relationship with his doctor. The article includes a link to the BMA statement.

This article makes an interesting contrast to a JoPM Media Watch piece from a few months ago, pointing to an AM News article that shows the jury is still out on this matter at the American Medical Association and the American Medical Student Association.

Also, in case you missed it on this blog, see yesterday’s guest post by Nancy B. Finn for an eye-opening account of just how desperately physicians and patients need help in communicating with each other on all levels. Among other tidbits, you’ll learn that it wasn’t until mid-2004 that US med students were tested on communication skills. [Insert indignant exclamation here!]

JoPM seeks to publish credible evidence that good physician-patient communication will improve health outcomes. We would welcome the opportunity to add to the very new and growing body of research on the topic of physician-patient relationships in social media. If we can demonstrate how others have successfully and ethically navigated the “pitfalls and opportunities” of social media, then perhaps we can help the BMA change its mind and help the AMA and AMSA make a PM-friendly policy decision. If any SPM members are working on such a study, or know others who are, or are willing to undertake a study, please let me know. I can be reached at


Posted in: ethics | found on the net | general | JoPM | net-friendly docs | social media




2 Responses to “Social media, patients, and physicians: a sticky wicket”

  1. Rick Ladd says:

    Unfortunately, the medical profession is far more conservative than it should be, and the physician-patient relationship no doubt suffers for it. However, they’re not alone in this. I believe it was the state of Missouri here in the U.S. that recently made Facebook contact between teachers and students illegal.

    I actually read an opinion piece in support of the legislation suggesting if teachers felt the need for contact with their students outside the classroom they resort to the old-fashioned way, face-to-face. Hello! How do they think the inappropriate sexual conduct they’re decrying has taken place in the past?

    I spent over twenty years in the aerospace industry, the last four or five of which I struggled – mostly in vain – to get my and other organizations to utilize social media internally for greater communication and collaboration. Things are somewhat better now, but the battle rages on.

    I wish you luck in your endeavor to help the BMA in particular, and the medical profession in general, to accept the reality of social media’s power to enhance all our lives through greater, more honest, and more complete communication.

  2. Nice post, thank you for your information.

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