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Researcher: Social Media Guidelines Needed for Mental Health Doctors

March 30, 2015
by Gabriel Perna
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Social media can be a useful tool in helping behavioral healthcare doctors better diagnose and connect their patients, a researcher from University Hospitals recently wrote. 

The researcher, from the Cleveland-based University Hospitals health system, looked at how social networks and public online forums were being used by mental health doctors to treat and connect with patients. University Hospitals Case Medical Center Psychiatrist Stephanie Pope, M.D. Found that while there were recorded cases of social media research of patients in treatment to prevent injury, there was a lack of institutional policy around this behavior at many organizations. This, she says, could cause potential issues in patient care.  

"This study was conducted as an effort to demonstrate the clinical implications of social media and form an understanding of the legal and ethical consequences of social media within practice," Pope said in a statement. "Institutions across the country lack protocols relating to the media forms and professional guidelines need to be established." 

The lack of protocols, she says, is alarming because 60 percent of patients are seeking support, knowledge and information about their own health utilizing social media platforms, according to a survey cited in the research. Dr. Pope says that social media can be used to assist these patients, and in many cases has obviously already done that, but protocols must be put in place. 

We need to understand the magnitude that social media is having on our clinical practice but at the same time we need to develop patient/doctor boundaries," said Pope. "When a patient comes to the emergency room and has had thoughts about suicide, social media channels can help ...but how, when and if can use this information is at the core of the argument."


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