Social media has revolutionized my practice. I stay current with Twitter content from other rheumatologists, patient organizations and medical journals. I am also an active member of the international Twitter-based rheumatology journal club, #RheumJC. Still, I was recently surprised when my patient’s name appeared in a friend request.
Explore this issueJuly 2017
This same patient was following me on Twitter, where I had no say in the matter, but this did not affect me. (There is an option to restrict your followers, but those sorts of restrictions would defeat the purpose of my account, because I was [and still am] trying to share my knowledge and findings on Twitter rather than restrict them.) I was pleased that my patient wanted to become more involved with his care and that following me on Twitter meant that he was following a reputable source of information. However, when the friend request popped up on Facebook, I felt uneasy and uncertain about what to do next. I also wondered if there were any accepted standards for interacting with patients using social media.
The practice of consulting the Internet on health matters is ubiquitous. Eighty percent of those on the Web are seeking healthcare information, and more than one-third of U.S. caregivers participate in online social activities.1,2 Social media has become an efficient tool to disseminate medical information, to promote patient safety and health literacy, and to engage patients and providers in health advocacy. Younger trainees are now learning with the power of one thumb, and patient outcome research is now using social media with increasingly positive results. Medicine is changing, and social media is reshaping the patient–physician relationship as we know it.3