Social Media in medicine is a controversial area in regards to the role of social media in the physician-patient relationship.

This is a large and ongoing debate for many people, whether social media can benefit the physician-patient relationship, or can cross the boundaries of appropriateness, and make things uncomfortable.

PatientsLikeMe is an example of a social media site that is working to capture patient-reported data for people with life-changing diseases. It is opening up new ways of testing treatments. And, of course, it relies on social media and other methods to ‘reach out’ and communicate with patients.
PatientsLikeMe has 16 disease communities, which in turn represent information from over 40,000 patients. The PatientsLikeMe framework exists specifically to address the integrated health and disease needs of each population it serves.
PatientsLikeMe serves as a platform for peers to interact with one another in a data-driven context. Patients are able to speak with other ‘expert’ patients that have already been through the decisions they are dealing with. Patients also evaluate the medications they are taking for their conditions.

One of the benefits of social media in medicine is that it gives patients information they might need. Social media has re-humanized the medical experience by creating an opportunity for individuals to share details of their “personal relationship” with their illness or medication.

However, it can be taken too far; a physician may not realize that posting on the internet is more public than hospital elevator chatter. And, while elevator chitchat disappears after the sound disperses, internet posts do not easily vanish.

Policies have been set up to ensure that social media in medicine is not taken advantage of. For example, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 prevents doctors from using email or text messaging, much less open platforms like Facebook or Twitter, to publicly communicate about a a particular patient’s care, without risk of being fined or fired.

The American Medical Association’s “Professionalism in the Use of Social Media” policy provides short and concise instructions on conduct in cyberspace. Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Addendum to Social Media Guidelinesare helpful in that they offer a dozen fictional but believable examples in which improper social media usage can occur, and they prompt readers to reconsider their own online interactions in a different light.

Some say that physicians should never interact with patients via social media; however, some think quite the opposite.
According to PricewaterhouseCoopers,41 percent of patient respondents said they would share information with health care professionals via social media and 61 percent said they would trust information from health care professionals received via social media.

Practitioners can also utilize social media to share news stories and information in their community about their practice. But sometimes the stories can turn into hype, and may risk going ‘too far’. Some physicians notice that they are getting friend requests from their patients. Where do you draw the line?

The key is how and where the physician answers the questions being asked on social media. The use of social media in medicine is much different for physicians, as compared to the average person’s use of social media.

If a patient asks a sensitive or urgent question, one should take the conversation off social media and respond with a phone call or some other direct form of communication. Some physicians even go so far as to text patients if that seems the best way to communicate.

In conclusion, it is a matter of personal opinion and judgment as to how far the physician should go in using social media in medicine as it relates to thepatient-physician relationship. The key to using social media with patients is being professional and respecting both their privacy and your own.

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