"You may entrust your doctor with your life. But is it OK to 'friend,' tweet or text him or her?" That's the question US News writer Kristine Crane poses in an article aptly titled, "Should you Friend Your Doctor?" For answers, she turned to Farris Timimi, M.D., medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, and Bryan Vartabedian, M.D., (aka Dr. V), a keynote speaker at last year's Social Media Week at Mayo Clinic. Their answer was a resounding, it depends.
Dr. V. talked about the importance of keeping it social vs. medical. For example, he discusses his "breaking-bread threshold" for Facebook friending (would he invite the person over for dinner?), and treating the virtual social space like the real social space (on the sidelines at a sporting event, for example, isn't the best place for medical questions). While he otherwise may be Facebook un-friend-ly on a personal level, he's decidedly pro-social media when it comes to institutions. "Pediatricians have Facebook pages for their practices," Dr. V tells US News. That's a great way to communicate, especially with younger patients, he says, about things like "the availability of flu vaccines or new office hours."
Dr. T. (we believe in equality in nick naming), after agreeing that "we don't practice medicine" in that space, offers that social media is "a critical part of any physician's armatorium." We don't know what that means, but the writer highlights Dr. T's use of "Facebook, Twitter (especially Twitter chats), Instagram, Pinterest and Google Plus to provide general information to patients." Those kinds of connections, he says, offer "an element of transparency that humanizes the doctor and I think could potentially draw a closer relationship between the doctor and patient." And social media tools such as YouTube can be a highly efficient way to communicate to patients who need the same baseline information. So, "Instead of beginning the conversation at ground zero, it's much higher," he says. "Patients who are informed have the capacity to be their own expert of their disease."
To wrap things up, Drs. T and V offer a couple thoughts for patients. Dr. T suggests that patients make sure they know who they're dealing with online -- who is behind the handle, for example, and who they represent. "They should be transparent about who they are and what they represent," he says. If they're not, patients should "consider going back to a more reputable source."
Hear more on the topic from Dr. Timimi here. Then make sure we know what we're dealing with by sharing your thoughts with a comment below. And don't keep it to yourself. You can pass along this free advice using the social media tools you'll find there.