ACP, FSMB Issue Stern Guidance on Social Media

Cheryl Clark, April 12, 2013

Physicians should never "friend" their patients on Facebook, and should be extra careful about anything they post online because it could come back to haunt them ethically, and professionally in a way that jeopardizes their licenses.

That's new guidance in a position paper issued Thursday by the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards.

"As we've seen too often, the boundaries of professional and social spheres can blur online," said Humayun Chaudhry, DO, FSMB president and CEO.

"Anything physicians post on sites can be forwarded, taken out of context, and accessed and be retrieved in perpetuity. That's a fact that many physicians don't always think about when they engage in social media. And we also feel that doctors should not 'friend' their patients."

Chaudhry and David Fleming, MD, Chair of the ACP's Ethics, Professionalism, and Human Rights Committee, made cautionary remarks during a press briefing at the ACP's annual meeting in San Francisco.

"There's this notion of blurring of our identity, and blurring of our persona as well," Fleming added. "With Facebook, where we get in trouble, at times, as healthcare professionals are when we start friending patients in ways that are perhaps inappropriate or when patients start friending us. We have to realize that although we may be friends with them, when we have a physician-patient relationship, that's a different context."

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