a his & hers weblog of worlds apart

Healthcare providers in social media

Personal expression, Professional hesitation

A while ago I wrote about Jay Parkinson, the physician who loves the internet. His practice, Hello Health allows patients to interact with their doctor in numerous ways, including video chat, instant messaging or email. Not surprisingly you can learn more about Dr. Jay on his blog or follow him on Twitter.

As I learn about and become more comfortable with social media on my personal time, I can’t help but think about how these new tools may or may not have a place in my future professional role. Berci Mesko’s Webicina.com seeks to help health professionals answer this exact question. I’m excited by the idea of integrating new and more efficient ways of interacting with patients. However, the potential of these tools to blur the line between personal and professional roles makes me hesitant.

Some are already debating the question “is it OK for a doctor to follow his patients on twitter?” or visa versa? Are the answers to these questions different as a GC?

A large part of my job as a Genetic Counsellor involves putting aside my personal opinions in order to allow patients to make a decision that is uniquely right for them. While physicians commonly advise their patients about what to do, GCs are trained (for better or worse) to avoid advice-giving. The premise behind this practice is that decisions about whether or not to pursue genetic testing is personal, and can often involve complex social, psychological and emotional implications.

So, does expressing my personal opinion through social media compromise my non-directive professional role? I don’t think so (as is evident by the fact that I continue to write for this blog). But it has the potential to change things. Just as I feel unease when I encounter one of my patients in a public setting, I would feel uneasy if a patient decided to follow me on Twitter. Anyone else out there struggling with these reservations?

4 comments on “Healthcare providers in social media

  1. Andrea
    January 22, 2009

    I have had two patients find me on Facebook and make friend requests. One was not even a patient I had met in person because she participated in a study on telephone genetic counseling. I felt extremely uncomfortable about it and “ignored” them. I have had a few run-ins on the street, but I just let the patient take the lead then, and I know that when we say bye, that’s it. On the web, though, it’s wierd to know they can follow my personal life.

    I personally want to keep my professional and private lives separate. So embracing technology means it must allow me to do that.

  2. N/A
    January 23, 2009

    But not adding the “friend request” can lead you to developing a bad rep. Best to make sure that people are not able to search for your name. There is (or was) a way to sit your profile so it can’t be publically searched.

    As far as blogging goes, it is a good way to develop a good rep.

  3. Jennifer
    January 24, 2009

    A really interesting post, Allie. The link between genetic counselling and marketing that you have created with the mere existence of your blog is very forward thinking. This post is a great example of why it works.

    In my experience marketing people (and I am one!) can sometimes get rather tied up in our own little social media sphere…but looking beyond it, to see how social media is impacting things like the medical profession is where things start to get really interesting.

  4. alliejanson
    January 24, 2009

    @Andrea- I would have the exact same reaction as you to a FB friend request from a patient. Part of me can’t help but think that we shouldn’t completely shut these patients out though. With so few people who know what genetic counseling is, patients who are eager to connect on a non-clinical level might serve as a valuable resource and advocate for the profession as a whole and for our own personal practices. A personal facebook page is definitely not the right platform for this– but another platform might be? Maybe through something like LinkedIn?

    @Jennifer- Thanks for your comment. The use of Sean’s pro bono services provide a very obvious boost!

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This entry was posted on January 20, 2009 by in Her Nature Posts.

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