Monday, June 24, 2013

Social media guidance for family physicians

- Kenny Lin, MD, MPH

How do you use social media for professional purposes? An increasing number of family physicians use channels such as blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to keep up with the medical literature, network with other health professionals, and provide health education to current and prospective patients and their communities. When AFP launched its Community Blog and Facebook and Twitter accounts in 2010, there was little published guidance for physicians on how to get started in social media. Guidelines from the American Medical Association focused on avoiding unprofessional behavior, while the American Academy of Pediatrics reviewed the risks of social media use in children and adolescents, including cyberbullying and sexting. The author of a 2011 Curbside Consultation on whether physicians should be "friends" with their patients on social networking websites remarked: "In terms of universally accepted standards for interacting with patients using social media, it is kind of like the Wild West."

The Wild West got a little bit tamer last week, when the American Academy of Family Physicians released "Social Media for Family Physicians: Guidelines and Resources for Success." Designed to meet the needs of family physicians with varying levels of social media experience, this 15-page document offers a valuable road map that includes a concise orientation to major social media channels; a suggested initial approach; guidance on protecting patient privacy; and commonsense recommendations for social media policies in private and employed physician practices.