Facebook: To share or not to share

January 5, 2011

Insufficient privacy protection with social networking sites such as Facebook may have an impact on the doctor-patient relationship, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

 

Insufficient privacy protection with social networking sites such as Facebook may have an impact on the doctor-patient relationship, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics. Researchers sought to describe the Facebook activity of residents and fellows, as well as describe their opinions about Facebook’s impact on the doctor-patient relationship.

The study included self-reported information from 202 participants, 73% of whom had Facebook accounts. Although 15% of those surveyed said they would possibly accept a friend request from a patient, none said they would automatically accept the invitation.

The majority of the respondents reported that they don't have a problem with doctors having a Facebook account, but most agree/strongly agree (82%) that access to their profile should be limited to Facebook friends.

But does a patient's discovery of your Facebook account impact your relationship with him or her? Nearly half of those surveyed said yes, while 76% said that the relationship only changes if the patient has access to the doctor's profile.

What about using your real name and a picture? Fine, say 99% of those who shun the idea of a pseudonym and 91% who include a personal photograph in their profiles. And, 97% said they also include their birth date information.

The authors caution that public availability of information about a doctor’s private life may threaten the mutual confidence in the doctor-patient relationship if patients can access information that is not intended for them. They also state that doctors must be mindful that comments and pictures posted on personal Facebook sites may be misinterpreted from their original context and may not be an accurate reflection of their opinions or real-life behavior.