In the era of Face book, Twitter, MySpace and numerous other social networking websites, medicine and healthcare has also been influenced by social media. While some patients find it easier to contact their doctors and search up their health issues via social media, some are uncomfortable to see their doctor, with whom they have shared their personal health issues to be so easily accessible to everyone else.
Doctors have a very hectic lifestyle due to which they tend to develop a habit of reading the same journals , and prescribe the same drugs every time but social media enables them to interact with physicians across continents and help them upgrade their knowledge by reading latest blogs and research papers. Videos and podcasts act as a refresher’s course and doctors can revise their basic skills in no time. Blogging another important aspect of social media enables doctors to describe their personal experiences, patient stories, patient management reports which acts as a training tool for young and even senior doctors all over the world.
Howard Luks, MD at the New York medical college calls himself a Social Orthopeist. He said that during the 21st century a physician would be known by the networking he does through social media. Nowadays the patients use social media for health purposes and advised doctors to do the same; he recalls a story of how he had helped a Pakistani Surgeon to perform a difficult operation in the mountainous regions of Pakistan.
Public health officials all over the world send mass messages and update Face book statuses and posts to create awareness amongst masses when an epidemic curse occurs. Even in Pakistan, whenever an epidemic spread including dengue and most recently Naegleria fowleri, social media has been one of the most crucial tools in mass awareness
Despite countless benefits of social media in medicine, patient- doctor relationship and patient privacy are major concerns. What should a doctor tweet about, what advice should he/she give over social media and what is the code of conduct which a doctor should follow before becoming a part of the social media world as we should call it. Rules and regulations should be formulated to enable the doctors to make beneficial use of social media while maintaining patient privacy and satisfaction.
Though some doctors ask for permission from their patients before writing their case history as a blog even if the patient’s name is not mentioned. A lot of doctors prefer not to blog their patient histories after a highly publicized case when the state disciplinary board fined a Physician from Rhode Island for “Unprofessional Behavior” when she commented on a patient’s illness on Face book, though she did not mention the patient’s name the patient’s family recognized the patient by the description.
According to QuantiaMD, 87% of physicians make personal use of social media, but a lesser amount, 67%, use it professionally. 33% of U.S. physicians have received Face book friend requests from patients; 75% of them declined the invitations. The reason being that doctors have drawn a line regarding personal professional relations on social media.
In May 2012, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB)’s Special Committee on Ethics and Professionalism developed the Policy Guidelines for the Appropriate Use of Social Media and Social Networking in Medical Practice to educate the doctors on proper use of social media. Some of the postulates of this policy include:
• Physicians should never have any online interaction with the patient except when discussing the patient’s medical treatment and that also should never be done on a social networking site.
• Patient privacy and confidentiality must be protected at all times, although doctors are allowed to discuss medical cases online, it should be made sure that the patient is not recognizable.
• Physicians should use proper language while using social media, the use of offensive language is banned and the doctor should be aware that whatever he/she is posting is visible to a large audience.
Similar rules and regulations are required even in Pakistan and other developing nations and social media ethics should be made a compulsory subject in the medical curriculum so that new doctors are fully aware and are capable of using social media effectively and wisely.
About the author: Huda Naim is a medical student at the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS), Karachi, Pakistan. She also works as a volunteer for the Patient’s Welfare Association (PWA), Karachi, Pakistan. She can be reached at: [email protected]
About this article: This article is competing for the JPMS International Medical Writing Contest 2012 for the theme: Social Media and Medicine
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