Doctors Should Establish ‘Dual Citizenship’ Online, Researchers Say
Physician, split thyself.
Dr. Arash Mostaghimi and Dr. Bradley Crotty, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, believe physicians should create a healthy distance between their professional and personal identities on sites like Facebook and Twitter. In a new opinion piece, they recommend that physicians create a “dual citizenship” on social networking sites, and they discourage the use of such sites for direct communication with patients.
“Physicians are just beginning to understand the opportunities and challenges of social media,” Crotty said.
Mostaghimi and Crotty share their opinions on the subject in the April edition of Annals of Internal Medicine.
“We’re not suggesting that physicians should be prohibited from using social media sites. Doctors just need to be savvy regarding the content and tone of what they post online. People share information openly using social media, but posts intended for one audience may be embarrassing or inappropriate if seen by another,” Mostaghimi said.
The openness of social media, along with improved search capabilities online, can complicate the separate professional and private lives of physicians, Mostaghimi and Crotty wrote. Physicians should set boundaries that both protect the doctor-patient relationship and help prevent awkward moments such as fielding a Facebook friend request from a patient, the doctors said.
The two doctors said doctors should regularly perform “electronic self-audits” of their online identities.
A 2010 study by Mostaghimi and Crotty published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine indicated that more than 30 percent of physicians had posted some type of personal information on the Internet. The authors cited research showing that 17 percent of physician blogs contained information that could reveal the identity of a patient or doctor.
Mostaghimi and Crotty suggested that “social networks may be considered the new millennium’s elevator: a public forum where you have little to no control over who hears what you say, even if the material is not intended for the public.”
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.