Do You 'Friend' Your Doc? Maybe Not

Who would have thought? "Friending" your doctor on Facebook might not be such a good thing.

For quite a while it's been an option for many physicians and patients.  I have to admit I like it.  But now a new study is saying that maybe, duh, we might want to reconsider.

That's because, obviously, it can blur the lines in your relationship.  And not surprisingly, doctors may not like seeing your dog drinking Starbucks from a paper cup flash on their Facebook screens.

The findings from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers suggest a disconnect between what patients expect and what physicians – concerned about confidentiality and being overwhelmed in off-hours – are willing to do when it comes to online dialogue.

“The medical establishment needs to figure out how best to incorporate this reality into their practice while properly ensuring security safeguards,” says study leader Joy Lee, PhD, MS, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School, at “This is an area where there is significant patient interest, but institutions and health care providers haven’t caught up.” 

Obamacare, with its mandate that health care providers must convert to electronic records or face fines, probably did more than anything to introduce docs to the Internet. But it hasn't been all a happy party.

Researchers found that 37 percent of patients had used personal email to contact their doctors or hospital within the past six months and 18 percent reported using Facebook for the same purpose.

The findings related to Facebook are particularly interesting, Lee and her co-authors note, because “most institutions actively discourage social media contact with individual patients.” Nevertheless, the researchers predict that the percentage of patients using Facebook as a means of contacting their doctors “might grow as the average age of Facebook users rises and familiarity with Facebook grows.”

The team cites earlier studies from 2009, 2011 and 2012 indicating that a significant number of patients are interested in using the social media platform as a means of contacting their health care providers.

 Not surprisingly, patients between the ages of 25 and 44 were most likely to use email or Facebook to contact their doctors, with 49 percent of patients surveyed in that age group indicating that they had used these tools for this purpose within the past six months. By contrast, 34 percent of patients aged 45-64 and 26 percent of patients aged 65 or older reported the same.

But health care provider organizations discourage this kind of contact, the study finds.  I'm not so sure I'd want to see my doc's dog drinking coffee, either.


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