Every industry can benefit from social media, right? Not if you work in the health industry. Following a guidelines released by the British Medical Association, the British National Pharmacy Association (NPA) issued a recommendation to their members not to engage with patients via social media.
The NPA has released a statement discouraging its members from using social media – Facebook in particular – to communicate with patients for confidentiality reasons. An NPA spokesperson noted that “the pharmacy team has a duty to protect patient confidentiality, so interacting with the public on a personal level on Facebook or other social media platforms can be risky.”
The recommendation follows a similar warning issued by the British Medical Association which released a guidance stating that “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”
It’s a fair point. As the BMA guidance points out, medical professionals should not be privy to information not disclosed in a professional setting. Further, for patient-doctor confidentiality, it is important that doctors, pharmacists and other health professionals don’t blur boundaries. The guidance notes:
“Social media, through blogs and web forums, can provide doctors and medical students with a space in which they can discuss their experiences within clinical practice. As material published on the internet often exists in the public domain however, it is important that health professionals exercise caution when discussing any details relating to specific medical cases. Doctors and medical students have a legal and ethical duty to protect patient confidentiality. Disclosing identifiable information about patients without consent on blogs, medical forums or social networking sites would constitute a breach of General Medical Council (GMC) standards and could give rise to legal complaints from patients.”
The guidance further discourages health professionals from accepting Facebook Friend requests and to declare conflicts of interest should they occur. It’s all pretty standard, but for pharmacists who are health professionals and often business owners, what about using social media for business purposes? The NPA spokesperson acknowledges this issue and notes: “NPA members who want to use social media to promote their businesses can use our online best practice guides.” In short, pharmacists should proceed with caution, and the NPA has covered itself by warning its members of the risks.
It’s a tricky position to be in for pharmacists and other health professionals. What business doesn’t want to use social media? What person doesn’t? If overseeing patient’s health and wellness wasn’t enough, they now have to navigate the perils of social media as well. Other than security industry, health professionals probably have the most challenging obstacles to navigate if they choose to combine their personal and professional lives online. However, patients need to take some responsibility as well. Why exactly are patients inclined to add their doctors as Facebook friends? If you value doctor-patient confidentiality, take the bull by the horns and exercise the same discipline you are asking of your doctor or pharmacist.