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ACP: Physicians Should Keep Distance from Patients on Social Media

April 17, 2013
by By Gabriel Perna
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In a policy paper, released in a recent issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, the American College of Physicians (ACP) and the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) has provided a series of ethical guidelines for physicians using social media and other forms of electronic communication to interact with patients. The ACP and FSMB say the use of social media requires physicians to “consider how to best protect patient interests and apply principles of professionalism to online settings.”

The ACP and FSMB say for one, physicians should keep their professional and personal personas separate on social media. Furthermore, they indicate that physicians should not “friend” or contact patients through personal social media. In addition, the non-profit medical specialty organization, says physicians should not send or receive text messages for medical interactions even with an established patient, unless with extreme caution and consent by the patient.

“It is important for physicians to be aware of the implications for confidentiality and how the use of online media for non-clinical purposes impacts trust in the medical profession,” Humayun Chaudhry, DO, president and CEO of FSMB, said in a statement.

The guideline for physicians when they are approached through electronic means for clinical advice in the absence of a patient-physician relationship is that they should handle it with “judgment” and should try and schedule an appointment. The ACP and FSMB also say educational programs should be implemented to stress the repercussions of physicians posting inappropriate materials or actively policing their online content.

The biggest concerns, the two groups say, around digital communication are around privacy concerns. The positives of this concerns is that can provide the immediacy to non-urgent questions.

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