Thursday Thoughts | Distributing personal medical information via social networks

From a friend’s Facebook status:

Times have definitely changed. I am filling out my son’s paperwork for his well check with his new pediatrician and there is a spot to put your Facebook or Twitter account down to receive non urgent info about the patient!

We are clearly moving in the direction of social media and digital information, so I would love to hear your thoughts on the following (answers should assume consent from both parent and physician to use this type of interaction for non-urgent medical information):

  • Is it legal?
  • What about ethical?
  • What considerations would be required regarding this interaction?
  • What about privacy and security issues*?
  • Would all these considerations be a problem if there’s been consent from all parties?

And most importantly…

  • As a patient, would you consent to transferring non-urgent medical information this way?
  • What about as a physician or other healthcare provider?
*To play devil’s advocate, what makes these interactions any less safe than “snail-mailing” non-urgent info? Theoretically, can’t almost anyone open your mailbox and mail? Doesn’t snail-mail go through way more hands to get to someone than email? What makes them any less secure than cell phone voicemails? We learned from this incident that cell phone hacking is incredibly easy if you know the right people and technology. What do you think the differences are?

 Image: Free Digital Images | Kookkai_nak


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  1. Brittany

    Hi Danielle!

    Great questions! To clarify, what is an example of non-urgent info? Who would determine what is “non-urgent” enough to transmit through social media?

    Assuming acceptable answers to these questions, social media is just another way of communicating, so yes, I think it would be fine as long as the means of communication and possible risks were thoroughly explained to the patient and their full consent acquired. As a physician, I would be open to doing this, as it is convenient for both me and the patient, and perhaps would even result in the patient seeing it/responding to it faster (I know many people who check Facebook and Twitter more than their phone, and answer Tweets/Wall posts faster than voicemail). As a patient, I think I would consent to it also. If there was a particular issue that I deemed so personal and private that I didn’t want to risk a security breach, I would address that with the physician and work out another way to communicate about that issue. That should be a right all patients have.

    As much as I support the idea, I think this method needs to be carefully considered, and guidelines established on how to use it to minimize the possibility for security/privacy breaches. Perhaps some sort of encrypted system to be used for healthcare purposes could be created for a more secure transfer of messages. Currently, Facebook and Twitter do not use secure enough connections. In any case, extreme caution should be exercised, but social media has the potential to improve patient-physician communication, and I’m all for that!


  2. drsuzyyhall

    Such an interesting topic. I’m a Gynecologist of 15years in a sucessful practice. I’m in the process of creating a quick-tips format blog to address my patients’ everyday concerns/common questions that come up in the office. Until it’s ready, I’m using Twitter and Facebook, and a few of my patients know of my fan page. I find that I’ve had to remind them of my limitations, and inability to answer ‘true-life’ patient concern,… and that the FB/fanpage is for educational, networking and connecting purposes only…not to address direct patient care. They will directed to call the office for direct patient care.

    Twitter/FB @drsuzyyhall


  3. cate

    interesting… i don’t really think that facebook and twitter are an appropriate way to communicate patient info… email is one thing, facebook/twitter is entirely different. I wouldn’t give them that info.


  4. katie

    i have a doc (who i have to see fairly regularly) who texts me personally to confirm appointments, and expects a response. no protected information is discussed, though. that feels…unsafe.


  5. WarmSocks

    If the doctor wants to have a FB page for the clinic and post generic things there, that would be okay, but I wouldn’t want my doctor posting things on my FB wall. I’d prefer to have private email (not through FB).


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