Fakebook Consultations Banned

Medical indemnity insurers are advising their members that communicating with patients via Facebook could mean stepping over the strict boundary defining acceptable doctor-patient relationships as reported in 6minutes today.

A GP in the UK recently was sent lilies by a patient in gratitude for treating his whiplash, who had found out her favourite flower via Facebook. After rejecting subsequent advances, the GP’s insurer advised her to write a cease-and-desist-style letter and pass his patient file to other colleagues.

In Australia, a junior medical officer jeopardised his career after comments he posted on Facebook about patients were reported to the medical board and his employer. He kept his job, but only after much stress, and $5,000 in legal fees.

Not sure I agree that ‘communicating with patients via social media networks such as Facebook can also reflect badly on the medical profession as a whole’. Instead I would hope that rational and ethical consideration would wash over physicians with an online presence tempering their cerebrations and cogitations on matters involving medical education and advice.

I think that does reflect in general on what the public’s perception would be of doctors, as do any adverse events involving doctors. I guess one argument is that Facebook is a private thing and what you do in your private life is irrelevant, but I think there is a possibility that can reflect on you as a professional as well.

Dr Sara Bird, Medico-Legal manager for MDA National

I am not sure how Big Brother will go in reviewing the DM’s on Twitter or my Facebook inbox messages from colleagues, friends and relatives cogitating on the most appropriate course of action for Aunty Edna’s haemorrhoids…instead maybe we should formalise some rules for the interactions of socially inept health care professionals with respect to their online presence as a suitable defence against medicolegal castigation. Options include:

  • Be as professional and courteous online, as you are in person
  • Think before you type before you publish
  • Utilise the vast resources available on the web to cite credible sources when responding to questions of a medical nature
  • Use a website disclaimer as per @DrVes


  • Refer ‘potential online patients’ to more credible sources of medical information such as  Yahoo Health
  • Limit interactions of a medical nature to direct, visual and kinaesthetic
  • Isolate yourself from virtual social interactions
  • Suddenly and dramatically lose the ability to act in a respectful and responsible manner whilst throwing rocks from behind a computer screen and being ignorant to the potential complications of legacy information being retained in cyberspace…
  • Do not accept ‘friend requests’ from your mother or other relatives (most common sources of medical information requests) or publicly accept gifts from, or enter into flirtatious cyber-conversation with patients…

Remember – “what goes online…stays online

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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