Should you 'friend' your doctor on Facebook?

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by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on January 14, 2010 at 11:54 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

On Facebook, you've friended your coworkers, your high school sweetheart, maybe even your mother. But what about your doctor? More and more doctors are using social media sites, but where do you draw the line?

Leah Flannigan was searching through Facebook and stumbled across her podiatrist's page.

"I just typed in his name and I found him. And he's the kind of doctor that I felt would probably accept me as a friend, even though I was his patient," said Flannigan.

More doctors are starting to use social media to interact with patients or share medical news, says Phil Bauman. Bauman is the president of Carevocate, which helps corporations navigate the social media waters.

"You obviously can't diagnose someone with a condition over e-mail or Twitter or Facebook, but you can help people. It could be as simple as getting an update on lab reports or a prescription,” said Baumann.

“I've had patients contact me where they're out of town and they hop on Twitter and they shoot me a quick question," said Dr. Andrew Schneider, podiatrist.

During the swine flu outbreak, advanced pediatrics used Facebook to communicate with worried parents. Child obesity specialist Dr. Joanna Dolgoff posts weight loss videos on YouTube, and eye surgeon Dr. Gregg Feinerman has his assistants tweet updates from the OR.

"My family really liked the idea that they can receive updates on Twitter about the surgery because they couldn't be with me in the operating room," said Tiffany Chi, patient.

“We use a pseudonym so when their family looks it up on Twitter, they can identify which patient it is by the pseudonym used," said Dr. Feinerman.

Obviously privacy is a big concern and right now there are no guidelines from the American Medical Association.

"I think friending online is a touchy issue. Physicians have to document everything they do, physicians have concerns about litigation, they have concerns about HIPAA and privacy," said Baumann.

If you want to "friend" your doctor, have a real life conversation first to make sure he or she is OK with it.

One thing that may help facilitate healthcare social media in the future are new sites, like HelloHealth.com, which are designed with specific healthcare provisions, such as privacy, in mind.

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