Should You Accept a Facebook Friend Request from a Patient?
Last week, we talked about the gradual decline of the patient-physician relationship and how email is becoming increasingly popular in filling the communication gap.
The plethora of social networking options have also created new avenues for communication and marketing but you would be wise to weigh the pros and cons before diving in. Let’s focus on the largest and most well known social networking site: Facebook.
The number of members on Facebook is staggering; 400 million and growing by leaps and bounds every day. A 2009 survey by MDsearch physicians showed that 67% of physicians have Facebook profiles. Most use the site to connect personally with friends and family members but there are an increasing number of physicians who utilize Facebook to market their services via “Fan Pages”. A Fan Page allows a practice to highlight their physicians and services to people who might not otherwise have any familiarity with them and with a marketing cost of ZERO, it might be worth exploring.
Of course, there’s the traditional use of Facebook. You post pictures of your smiling family on vacation and Aunt Alice remarks on how big the children are. You check your Facebook messages and see that you have a “Friend Request” from a patient. Now what do you do?
According to Katherine Chretien in USA TODAY, you run for the hills. Well, not literally, but you do politely decline. As Ms. Chretien states, the American Medical Association hasn’t created any guidelines that mandate the use of social networking for physicians yet. However, the inference that one of your Facebook friends, Mrs. Jones, might be a patient could in itself be a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
This is where regularly scheduled e-news from your practice can soften the line between you and your patients while maintaining their confidentiality. A newsletter allows you to share the information both professionally and personally that you feel comfortable with sharing. There’s nothing wrong with highlighting the newest advances in medical technology along with telling your patients that you’ll be on vacation the last week of August. It not only increases their medical knowledge but it also allows them to plan their schedules accordingly.
Presenting yourself as “going green” with a “free” e-newsletter will endear you even more to your patients in this environmentally conscious, cost-cutting age. And, it’s a much more intelligent solution than risking a fine of up to $250,000 and/or prison to avoid hurting Mrs. Jones’ feelings.
This entry was posted on Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 and is filed under Business Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
- #1 by Dr. Andrew Schneider on July 22nd, 2010
I disagree with the sentiments that accepting a friend invitation is a violation of HIPPA. If a physician was to solicit all of his patients on Facebook, I could understand. However, if a patient solicits the doctor on his personal page, there is no reason to suggest that this person is a patient. If the patient chooses to post a comment about the doctor’s treatment, that is the decision of that patient. Of course Facebook is not secure and, even private messaging, should never be used to disseminate protected health information.
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