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Maintaining Professional Boundaries on Social Media

When your patients want to get to know you, allowing them to have some insight into your personal life is not a bad thing. Your website — where you can highlight your education, hobbies, family, etc. and control the information being published — is a great place to start. But what about social media? Should you friend or follow your patients?

Maintaining professional boundaries is important. In health care, there is an invisible hierarchy — patients should view you as a professional, not as a friend. Connecting with your patients on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or TikTok blurs the lines of personal and professional interaction.

Because nothing is really private on social media, as a professional you must take care with what you post even on your personal pages for family and friends. The idea that everyone is just six degrees separated from one another has a lot of truth, and in a smaller community or even a neighborhood in a large city, it might be more like two or three degrees. What you put on social media can be reposted, retweeted and shared until it reaches your patients’ social circles.

Set Boundaries with Patients

Set and be clear with your patients about your boundaries. When a patient wants to connect on social media, be prepared to respond. Having a templated message can help — simply personalize, cut, paste and hit send. Try something like:

“(Patient’s name), thank you so much for your friend request on Facebook. It is practice policy to not connect with patients on my personal social media accounts. We strive to maintain professional doctor/patient relationships and to safeguard your confidentiality and privacy. For updates on our practice, I encourage you to like or follow our business page at (insert URL). Thank you for your understanding.”

Set Boundaries with Staff

In addition to setting boundaries with your patients, you may also want to consider setting clear, professional boundaries with your staff, as well.

  • As a practice owner, be sure that your staff knows your expectations when it comes to their involvement with you and, more importantly, with the patients.
  • Staff may not think about the complications you face with them being your patient’s friend on social media, so talking to them openly can illustrate your point.

You can solve many issues surrounding social media use in your practice by having a social media policy in place.

Making the sacrifice that being a doctor entails and applying self-discipline in your online behavior will pay dividends for your reputation. 

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