Should I Friend a Patient on Facebook?
Risk Management

What are the Risks of Expanding My Social Media Presence?

Question: I recently began using social media to communicate with family and friends. Are there any risks associated with expanding my social media presence?


Answer:  We asked defense attorney Mandi Karvis for her advice on this topic.

As a starting point, she recommends you have two separate profiles—one for your personal life and one for your practice. Karvis says it’s important to establish adequate privacy settings and to revisit the various sites’ privacy policies periodically, as they tend to change over time. Your privacy settings should preclude patients from accessing your personal information.

Karvis also recommends developing a standard policy to address friend requests from patients. For example: I am unable to friend current or former patients on social networking sites out of respect for our doctor/patient relationship and to safeguard your confidentiality. Instead, I encourage you to like my practice page.

This policy could be included in the new patient information packet. That way, patients will be aware of the practice’s stance upfront and less likely to be offended if they’re not friended on social media.

Karvis says interactions should be consistent and professional between doctors and patients, whether in person or on social media. She says there is a greater risk of misconceptions in online interactions because they lack the visual cues provided by body language.

It’s also important to recognize that people tend to be more casual behind a computer screen than they are face-to-face. However, even when patients engage in informal banter with their doctors on social media, they may contend later (e.g., during a lawsuit) that the informality made them feel uncomfortable. Karvis says patients often will say they went along with the banter because that was how the doctor communicated with them.

Finally, Karvis notes that society expects a high level of professionalism from doctors. In court, jurors may react negatively to a doctor who has interacted casually with patients.


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