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Doc, you have a new friend request…from your patient

There’s no denying that social networking has become ubiquitous. From Facebook to Twitter and now Google+, it's hard to escape. Physicians using these sites is an issue that’s been debated.  But for the British Medical Association, it's pretty simple: Doctors should think twice before adding patients as friends.  The Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog reports today on the group’s new social media guidelines, which cite how tough it may be to establish professional boundaries on sites like Facebook:

Given the greater accessibility of personal information, entering into informal relationships with patients on sites like Facebook can increase the likelihood of inappropriate boundary transgressions, particularly where previously there existed only a professional relationship between a doctor and patient. Difficult ethical issues can arise if, for example, doctors become party to information about their patients that is not disclosed as part of a clinical consultation. The BMA recommends that doctors and medical students who receive friend requests from current or former patients should politely refuse and explain to the patient the reasons why it would be inappropriate for them to accept the request.

By contrast, the American Medical Association doesn’t exactly tell doctors they shouldn't hit that “Add/confirm as a friend” button, but they do list a number of issues physicians should consider when maintaining a presence online.

Previously: Should doctors use Facebook?Social media brings up questions, ethical unknowns for doctors, Should you follow your psychiatrist on Twitter? and Physician 2.0: Do doctors risk becoming irrelevant if they ignore social media?

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