STUDY: Most Doctors Decline 'Friend' Requests From Patients

  1. Here is an interesting article abstract from the Journal of Medical Ethics. Even though this is specific to doctors, I am sure the similar concerns would hold true to nurses and patients. I think this is something every health professional needs to seriously consider.


    Aim Facebook is an increasingly popular online social networking site. The purpose of this study was to describe the Facebook activity of residents and fellows and their opinions regarding the impact of Facebook on the doctor–patient relationship.

    Methods An anonymous questionnaire was emailed to 405 residents and fellows at the Rouen University Hospital, France, in October 2009.

    Of the 202 participants who returned the questionnaire (50%), 147 (73%) had a Facebook profile. Among responders, 138 (99%) displayed their real name on their profile, 136 (97%) their birthdates, 128 (91%) a personal photograph, 83 (59%) their current university and 76 (55%) their current position. Default privacy settings were changed by 61% of users, more frequently if they were registered for >1 year (p=0.02). If a patient requested them as a ‘friend’, 152 (85%) participants would automatically decline the request, 26 (15%) would decide on an individual basis and none would automatically accept the request. Eighty-eight participants (48%) believed that the doctor–patient relationship would be altered if patients discovered that their doctor had a Facebook account, but 139 (76%) considered that it would change only if the patient had open access to their doctor's profile, independent of its content.

    Residents and fellows frequently use Facebook and display personal information on their profiles. Insufficient privacy protection might have an impact the doctor–patient relationship.

    Link to full article: Facebook activity of residents and fellows and its impact on the doctor€“patient relationship -- Moubarak et al. -- Journal of Medical Ethics

    Recently, here on AN there have been several nursing conversations on this topic, here are links to just a few of them:

    Related article on this study from MedPage Today: Medical News: Most Docs Would Decline Patients Requests - in Public Health & Policy, Ethics from MedPage Today
    Careful reflection is needed to define better the implications of electronic communication media on the traditional role of doctors and on the new aspects of medical professionalism.
    Study authors said doctors need to keep a safe social distance away from their patients to outweigh the fear of embarrassing someone who sought treatment.

    This new interaction (whether it is romantic or not) results in an ethically problematic situation because it is unrelated to direct patient care… Moreover public availability of information on a doctor’s private life may threaten the mutual confidence between doctor and patient if the patient accesses information not intended for them.
    Do you know if your hospitals have any social media policy in place for healthcare providers? Should they?

    Would love to hear your feedback.
    Last edit by brian on Dec 16, '10
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    About Brian, ADN

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  3. by   Moogie
    Interesting article! These doctors are behaving in a very wise, professional manner.

    Then again, I knew a doctor who ended up marrying the widow of one of his patients. This was well before the advent of Facebook. Still...eeeeuuuuwwwww.
  4. by   CrazierThanYou
    Quote from Moogie
    Interesting article! These doctors are behaving in a very wise, professional manner.

    Then again, I knew a doctor who ended up marrying the widow of one of his patients. This was well before the advent of Facebook. Still...eeeeuuuuwwwww.
    What is eeeeuuuuwwwww about that?
  5. by   RNDreamer
    There is no policy that I know of at my workplace. Even though I don't post much on FB and never about work or anything I would be ashamed about if it got put on the news, it is still my personal area of the world where I should be able to do or say what I want without causing drama.

    Because of that, I made the personal decision not to be FB friends with current coworkers or ANY patients.
  6. by   themoreyouknow
    There is a pretty laid back pediatrician who has a FB that is PUBLIC. I scrolled through the pictures and they were pretty much the same - pic after pic of him drinking it up in a bar with a bunch of different women and a few pics with his kids.

    He is a ped that comes to our facility. After seeing those pictures, I wouldn't want him as my pediatrician.

    Why? We post what we are proud of. If that is what he is proud of, he is not the type of person I want as my child's doctor. If I bring my kid in at 0800 because I am worried about something, is this doc going to be paying attention or suffering from a hangover.

    I post pics of my kids of our crafts or remodeling/decorating. Do I occasionally go out? Yes. Rarely, but I do. I do not post pictures every time I have an alcoholic beverage. Actually, I don't post any pictures of me with an alcoholic beverage.

    I do think it's better for doctors to keep their profile private.
  7. by   ElvishDNP
    I don't know that my hospital has a policy on social media interaction that takes place outside the hospital. My OB is on facebook, I do know that - but I wouldn't think of friending him. That's just weird! Even if I did, though, I think he'd be among those that would decline.

    I live in a pretty small-ish town and you may very well go to church with the same people who do your Pap smear, in which case the line is blurred a little. Personally, I have no problem if someone from church friends me, even if I know them from somewhere else. But if it were strictly a patient-provider (doc, nurse, whatever) relationship, I'd feel funny about either friending or being friended.
  8. by   Moogie
    Quote from CrazierThanYou
    What is eeeeuuuuwwwww about that?
    The relationship sorta started when the husband was a patient...
  9. by   CrazierThanYou
    Quote from Moogie
    The relationship sorta started when the husband was a patient...
    Ah well, that is a bit different. But instead of ewwww, I would call that incredibly unprofessional.
  10. by   TanyaBRN
    I would want to know that my doctor is smart enough to use strict privacy settings on Facebook, and to decline friend requests from her patients. I would never friend a patient, and I am very selective in the coworkers I am friends with. There are some silly pictures from my bachlorette party...nothing unethical but no one I work with needs to see me in that godawful dress they made me wear. I really don't think that hospitals need to go around writing policies about it though. If the doctor isn't smart enough to keep his private life private on the internet, what does that say about his overall judgement?
  11. by   oramar
    I never got a Facebook page 'till I was out of nursing 2 years. That was simply because I hadn't heard of it 'till then. However, I think if I were still working at bedside I would stay out of it. I personally see to much potentential for trouble. Just my opinion, other people can do as they please.
  12. by   kristandrews
    i'm a student, and after one of my peds clinicals, a peds patient friend requested me on facebook. one of my teachers advised me to decline the request, and i agreed with her. i sent a message to the patient explaining why i had to decline, and she was cool with it. my profile is squeaky-clean, but i wonder about crossing any boundaries with the whole patient/caregiver relationship, especially with kids!
  13. by   TerpGal02
    I think its a smart, professional idea not to friend pts on Facebook. Mine is private, I have no desire for the world to see ANY pics of me, but still I am VERY careful what I post. It is weird to see your caregivers out in social situations. My PCP is next door neighbors and VERY good friends with DHs cousin and she's at EVERY social gathering his cousin has. (She was my PCP WELL before becoming E's neighbor). We avoid eachother like the PLAUGE when we are at E's. What was really awkward was having E as my medical assistant when she did her clincal hours (did them with my doc, of course) and the fact that I freakin know ALL her personal business now because E has a big mouth and tells her mom and my MIL EVERYTHING.
    Last edit by TerpGal02 on Dec 18, '10
  14. by   Altra
    I would not friend a patient. Ever. Period.