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A psychiatrist’s tips for maintaining professional boundaries online

5336842036_e1ebb7d410_bFor many doctors, it can be tough to maintain professional boundaries online. Recently, Stanford psychiatry resident Jessica Gold, MD, reflected on her own struggle to stay active online while remaining professional in a Huffington Post essay.

"I may be comfortable telling some patients where I went for a holiday break or that I have the flu," Gold writes, yet "as a psychiatrist, the question of when and what to disclose is always on my mind."

So, what's a therapist to do? Gold offers this rule of thumb from an article by Edmund Howe, MD, JD, of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Howe advises psychiatrists to disclose information about their lives only if they feel comfortable sharing and think it is likely to help the patient.

This rule is helpful, Gold admits, but she says it falls a bit short when it comes to social media and dating apps. She writes:

On sites like Facebook, the privacy settings let you 'block' a lot of what 'everyone' can see. And, the information that can be gleaned by someone you 'reject' is minimal. Yet, dating status and the profile questions on dating apps do not usually fall under the common disclosure items. I personally do not feel comfortable with my patients knowing my relationship status, let alone the pictures I choose or the few lines I write about myself.

It's not practical, or desirable, to expect clinicians to shun social media, Gold writes. A more realistic solution may be for doctors to use social media and dating apps if they choose, "but with more oversight and awareness of what information is available to the public and who that public might include," she says.

After all, "outside of the office and on the computer, personal information takes an uncontrolled life of its own."

Previously: Who medically needs a pet? A psychiatry resident shares her perspectiveTherapy dogs take a bite out of student stress before examsPsychiatric trained dogs help in the battle of PTSD and Doc, you have a new friend request...from your patient
Photo by Nan Palmero

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