You may want to be Facebook friends with your doctor, so you can ping him or her a quick question or maybe an image of a bug bite for an online diagnosis. But the question being asked by the medical community is, should your doctor be Facebook friends with you?
The American College of Physicians (ACP) and the Federation of State Medical Boards issued a policy statement in the Annals of Internal Medicine addressing best practices for physicians in the digital environment.
As more doctors are using social media in both their personal and professional lives and more patients want information in a digital minute there hasn't been formal guidelines for how this online relationship should proceed, until now.
"Digital communications and social media use continue to increase in popularity among the public and the medical profession," wrote Phyllis Guze, MD, FACP, chair, Board of Regents, ACP. "This policy paper provides needed guidance on best practices to inform standards for the professional conduct of physicians online."
According to those recommendations, the use of online media can bring about educational benefits both to patients and their doctors. But they acknowledge possible ethical challenges as well. They also suggest that doctors maintain separate personal and professional identities online consisting of perhaps a personal Facebook account as well as a professional page for communication or sharing health info.
So are more doctors turning to the Internet and social media as a way to communicate with their patients? Dr. Ted Eytan, Director of the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health in Washington tells our reporter all 17,000 of Kaiser Permanente's physicians are accessible to their patients via their mobile devices. That doesn't mean they're all friending and tweeting each other, though. He says instead of thinking about how doctors and patients can get social, they focus on how they can best communicate, using social media as a tool. That way, "you can meet people's needs, securely and quickly."
Eytan says it's about talking and listening communicating. At KP there are 1.1 million emails sent to physicians every month, and 580,000 new emails sent to patients every month from physicians.
"Once patients can get the information they need about their care in a quick and accessible way," he says. "Social media is a way to build trust by delivering useful information and creating good will between patients and physicians."