GPs should not be Facebook friends with patients

GPs should not accept Facebook requests from current or former patients, the BMA has warned.

Guidance issued this week sets out the problems that can occur if the boundaries in the doctor-patient relationship become blurred.

‘Using social media: practical and ethical guidance for doctors and medical students’ also sets out advice for doctors and medical student using social media.

The guidance suggests that doctors and medical students consider using conservative privacy settings.

The BMA also stresses that ethical and legal duties to protect patient confidentiality apply equally on the internet as in other media. It reminds doctors and medical students that it is ‘inappropriate to post informal, personal or derogatory comments about patients or colleagues on public internet forums’.

BMA medical ethics committee chairman Dr Tony Calland said social media presented doctors and medical students with opportunities, as well as challenges.

‘Medical professionals should be wary of who could access their personal material online, how widely it could be shared and how it could be perceived by their patients and colleagues,’ he said.

‘Accepting Facebook friends presents doctors with difficult ethical issues,’ he said. ‘For example doctors could be become aware of information about their patients that has not been disclosed as part of a clinical consultation.’

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