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Searching for New Patients, Doctors Turn a Wary Eye Toward Social Media

By | October 5, 2015

Social media is everywhere, but is it a viable platform for confidential doctor-patient communication?

We’ve all been there. You wake up in the morning with a minor pain in your neck. Perhaps you slept in a strange position. Throughout the day, the ache persists and without even realizing it, your train of thought keeps wandering back to the pain.

The power of distraction leads you to Google, where you begin a built-to-fail quest for diagnosis. Within five minutes, you’ve gone off the rails and diagnosed yourself with a terminal illness.

Eight out of ten internet users embark on a similar path by turning to the internet to research their health concerns, as Pew Health Center details. In these scenarios, wouldn’t it be easier if you could log onto Facebook and send your doctor a message? What about a direct message on Twitter or Instagram? Or even shoot them a simple text or email?

Even though these options are enticing, the likelihood of your doctor engaging in a casual online chat is currently slim at best. However, the convenience of technology is convincing some professionals to reconsider these unwritten rules.

The Gray Area

The growing chasm between healthcare guidelines, laws, policies, and quickly changing technology has created a no man’s land of doctor-patient relations. Because few websites offer trustworthy digital encryption, online communications are especially vulnerable.

Physicians who speak digitally with patients are in potential violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as explained by Physician’s Weekly.

A comprehensive study, entitled, “Online Medical Professionalism: Patient and Public Relationships” ventures into this confusing gray area by examining the merits and drawbacks of digital communications in the medical profession.

In order to maintain privacy, confidentiality, and clear boundaries, the authors endorse a clear separation between personal and professional online identities. In addition, an online relationship between a physician and patient should augment, but not replace, in-person interactions.

Sharing Is Caring

For many doctors, the internet provides a new opportunity to supplement their face-to-face interactions and treatment. By creating a professional web presence for their practice, physicians can take advantage of the internet to disseminate helpful information.

Some doctors are already dipping into the social media pool to better care for their patients, as CNN reports. Primary care physician Lisa Shaver has seen some success with her practice’s Facebook page. She says, “I have people come up to me and say, ‘I follow you on Facebook —pewq  thank you for posting this particular article. It helped me and my husband and my family.'”

Dr. Kevin Pho of KevinMD.com suggests that sharing reputable medical information online could dissuade patients from self-diagnosing. Dr. Linda Gargis of Physician’s Weekly thinks social media is a good way to educate a larger population on medicine.

Safe and Sound

The relationship between healthcare professionals and social media is evolving. But the limiting nature of online interactions, like lack of security and inability to adequately perform physical evaluations, means that patients need to continue seeing their doctors face-to-face.

SingleCare can put you face-to-face with a highly qualified doctor for a fraction of the out-of-pocket price. There are no premiums or extra fees to pay, so you’ll find a great doctor at no additional cost. With SingleCare, you have access to a rapidly growing network of healthcare professionals who can diagnose those aches and pains, which means you won’t have to turn to the internet.

(Main image credit: Giorgio Ranu’/flickr)