I have recently been invited to participate in a survey about doctors’ business use of social media to communicate with patients.
The same people who contacted me did a similar survey of doctors five years ago and concluded ‘most Australian doctors didn’t have the knowledge or confidence to interact with patients online’.
I am amazed about how few colleagues use social media in their medical practice. I suspect it is because they are worried they will do something wrong. Indeed, this had happened. As well I have been at meetings and read articles where doctors have been advised to use considerable caution in their use of social media. I suspect another reason is many doctors don’t use social media is they don’t have social media accounts.
I have embraced the internet and social media for many years. I have never had a problem with the use of social media. As well, I recognise its popularity amongst patients. I have accounts for my medical practice with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn. As well, patients can contact me through the ‘contact us’ option of my website, by email and by the phone.
Facebook messaging is the most popular way patients communicate with me.
I have trained myself in common sense social media ‘rules’ and I make sure I never deviate from them. This keeps my use of social media appropriate and avoids the pitfalls some colleagues have fallen into.
- At the initial antenatal visit, I advise a new patient how she can contact me. I show her my personal medical practice Facebook site. I advise her Facebook messaging is very popular way patients contact me. I then invite her to be Facebook friend of my personal medical practice Facebook site. I never invite her again. I also have an Obstetric Excellence Facebook business page where there is information about articles, including links to new posts on my website and some photos. As my Obstetric Excellence Facebook business page is not a ‘patient only’ page, I often don’t check it for messages and never respond to questions.
- I will never use Facebook to find patients and to ask a patient to be a Facebook friend.
- I only accept Facebook friend requests from patients. This is except for a few close family members and a few colleagues.
- I don’t accept requests from other people including the patient’s husband /partner or mother. I don’t accept requests from a patient’s husband /partner or mother for medio-legal privacy and patient confidentiality reasons. I cannot discuss her management with anyone else without her permission. As well the patient is the best person to relay the concern and answer any questions that I may have about her concern. I have had situations where husbands, partners or mothers have contacted me for information without the permission or even knowledge of their wife, partner or daughter. If it is a such a serious problem that a patient is not medically able to contact me herself then social media is not a correct forum for communicating and she should be attending the hospital.
- I don’t give long detailed replies to patient messaging questions. Sometimes I direct her to an article on my website that is relevant for the concern she has. If has a more serious concern or I consider she or her unborn baby needs to be assessed I will suggest she sees me on my rooms or attends the hospital for assessment.
I have a very large collection of baby photos on the internet of which I am very proud, and which give me so much joy. Patients also comment how wonderful the photos are. I have trained myself in common sense social media ‘rules’ about use of photos.
- I only post baby photos sent to me by patients.
- I always ask the patient’s permission before posting her baby photos. Most patients are happy for me to post their photos, occasionally someone is not, and I respect that decision.
- I am careful with what photos I post; with consideration some are taken at the time of delivery and so may not be suitable for general public viewing.