Maintain Professionalism by Keeping Good Social Media Boundaries

Keeping social media boundaries when we are accessible pretty much anytime, anywhere is getting tougher.

Medical students and residents receive training on physician-patient boundaries, but not enough says Dr. Saketh Guntupalli, a gynecologic oncologist and author.

Video transcript

Maintaining boundaries in medicine is an incredibly important topic that often goes under-discussed when we are training medical students and residents. Maintaining those boundaries in an age where people are accessible pretty much all the time, anywhere on the planet is getting increasingly difficult.

The two areas where boundaries make the most sense and are the most important certainly are in the areas of social media and cell phone communication.

The reality is we all use social media and we all interact with people via Facebook or Twitter and our cell phones. These are all things that fall under this realm of social media. And so, I will talk a little bit about social media’s specific applications, such as Facebook and Twitter, and then I will talk about the cell phone.

Set boundaries between personal and professional life on social media

The reality is that the best way to protect yourself is to try to keep a very healthy distance between yourself and your patients on social media. The way that you can do this is by having, perhaps, a separate page that is purely professional that you can become friends with your patients on Facebook and Twitter, but only has professional information. You can use that as a tool by which to disseminate information.

Your personal Facebook page that you might have with your friends from college or from medical school should be off limits for your patients, simply because it can, unfortunately, be used against you in various situations. For example, if you were to go out for a night on the town and post pictures on Facebook, and a patient saw them the next day before you took them to the operating room, that might raise into question whether you were capable of doing the operation. Had you had enough sleep? Had you been drinking? These types of things are not things that we want to deal with on a day-to-day basis. So, these personal kinds of interactions are best kept to the most professional level with regards to patients.

Have rules for calling times and be careful about privacy

The second thing is your cell phone. Your cell phone is a way in which you can easily communicate with people but can also be a way in which patients can contact you at inappropriate times. You have to be very careful and judicious in who you give your cell phone number to. And probably the best thing to do is to not give it out or give it out with very specific restrictions.

I have given my cell phone out to some of my patients and for the most part, nearly 99.9% of the times, they have not abused it and called at appropriate times.

The other thing that we should all remember is that there are medical and legal reasons for not giving out and sharing too much information with cell phone and social media. In order to have a medical interaction, it has to be in a way that is protected and is secure. Oftentimes when we send text messages or talk on the phone or we communicate via social media these things may not be encrypted and may not protect patient safety.

Bottom line: We should keep a reasonable distance between our patients and our personal lives with regards to social media and the cell phone.