Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

One New Friend Request: My Doctor

By Jennifer ZahnPublished April 6, 2014

Social media use has increased rapidly and will continue to increase in the future. How will this impact the doctor-patient relationship?

By Jennifer Zahn, 04/06/2014   

             Although doctor-patient relationships should be close, extending this relationship to social media may be blurring the boundaries between personal and professional relations. Recent figures have shown that over 24 million have an active Facebook and about 15 million others are on Twitter. A majority of people use social media in their everyday lives; however, these social media sites can have both negative and positive benefits if doctors begin exposing themselves to their patients on the web.

            Social media has unquestionable benefits by serving as an expressive network for doctors to share their knowledge and expertise with the public. Patients who engage in the social media can earn a greater awareness about their own conditions or preventative knowledge in the healthcare field. This information is easily accessible and serves as a forum for question and answer exchange. In addition, patients can utilize the social media as an effective source for resolving quick questions about their health, instead of going into the office. However, when connecting on a personal site, such as Facebook, there can be risks in altering the relationship between doctors and patients.

            On the surface, a simple friend request appears to be harmless; however, sharing Facebook pages can cause an uncomfortable situation in the future. Facebook is typically a forum for personal expression; therefore, by sharing both professional and personal lives, doctors can begin to treat their patients more casually than professionally. By blurring those boundaries, these more personal relationships could impact the quality of care the patients receive. It is necessary for doctors to keep their relationships professional. Otherwise, this could cloud their objective clinical decision-making. Social media can also serve as a powerful tool of insight into the off-duty life of a doctor. Interacting with patients on social media can lead to the lack of privacy from their occupations. Therefore, this no longer just blurs the boundaries between doctor-patient relationships, but also distorts the boundary between professional and personal life for the medical professionals. According to BBC News, a large number of doctors have reached out to them for advice on abusive posts from patients and hate campaigns. They also reported that between 2010 and 2012 there were four times as many calls from doctors with experiences on social media and the rise of the popularity of Facebook sharing in the future.

            As social media rises in importance in society, it is also rising in the professional field. Yet, increases in technology may not always lead to improvements, especially in the medical field. Patients should be open to exposing their information to their doctors, but not through their Facebook profiles.