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Private Practice Social Media Policy

I’ve been writing about applications and web tools that can save time and energy for medical professionals. Providing a clear social media policy has clear advantages so it’s always a pleasure to read other doctors’ own guidelines. Here is an excerpt from a recent article:

As your doctor, I might sit on the edge of your hospital bed and try to quell your fears and anxieties of being ill. Or, I might bounce into the examination room with a bright smile and try to make you laugh with one of my very funny (read: corny) jokes. We might sit together and catch up on your life over the past six months since we last saw each other. In fact, we might have a patient-physician relationship that makes other patients and physicians utterly jealous.
But, please, don’t ask me to be your friend. That is, your Facebook friend.

Keely Kolmes, PsyD has a private practice and shared her experience with using social media. This is the summary of what she published:

  • She does not accept friend requests (Facebook, LinkedIn) from current or former clients.
  • She does not allow clients to become Fans of the Facebook Page of her practice.
  • If one of her patients starts following her on Twitter, they will discuss it during the next meeting. She does not follow back.
  • She does not interact with patients on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. She encourages her patients to call her or as a secondary option, use e-mail.
  • It is not a regular part of her practice to search for clients on Google or other search engines.
  • She does not follow current or former clients on Google Reader.
  • Business review sites: She does not respond to such reviews.
  • She prefers to use e-mail only to arrange or modify appointments.

I hope to see more similar guides in the future.

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. what if my patient likes my blog or vice versa? can we not interact on a personal level, just man-to-man, instead of doctor-to-patient?

    June 15, 2010
    • I think it’s always your decision. If you can discuss it with the particular patient and describe that this case is not part of the doctor-patient relationship, then it should be ok.

      June 15, 2010
      • there was also a similar article in the NEJM sometime ago on patients friend-ing doctors on facebook. one of the suggestions there, if i remember correctly, was to create a separate fan page for your patients to stay in touch with you. if i am not mistaken even kevin pho seemed to advocate this method on his blog.

        June 15, 2010
  2. Deirdre #

    Those guidelines work well in large cities and certainly in a psychiatry practice but in smaller communities, your patients go to school with your kids or connect with you on committees and on the golf course. Your social vs. professional roles are very different depending on your client base.

    Facebook has changed (I think unfortunately) from a way to keep in touch with family and friends on a purely social level to a networking, marketing, educational hotchpodge. Young people are being caught in that transition because suddenly the drunken party pictures that were the norm are being accessed by their schools and future employers.

    June 16, 2010
    • just a thought: if i am a party animal and do, at times, indulge in binge drinking, can i not be a good doctor? wild topless party-hopping did not stop richard feynman from winning the nobel prize!

      why then can we not be the persons we actually are and present a false face to the public? (come on, it is unbelievable that doctors do not drink or smoke or have other worldly habits!)

      June 16, 2010
      • Deirdre #

        That is my point, private and professional life are not the same thing. We need a way to seperate the two, otherwise it’s a little like having company webcams in our bedrooms.

        Professional people are always under public scrutiny and need safe places to blow off steam. In the past, doctors found that in private clubs and homes but had to be very professional in public venues. Social media like Facebook initially offered a safe place to be silly, critical or just uninhibitated but that changed when employers and school administrators became involved.

        I think it’s a huge issue that isn’t well unterstood.

        June 16, 2010
  3. Brandon #

    Dr. Kolme’s social media policy is not to engage with patients on it. Got it!

    But what is the point of having a Facebook Page for the practice if you are not going to interact with your patients?

    I understand there are implications. We are all trying to understand how all this fits in; especially from a doctor and patient perspective.

    But how is this different than telling your patients, if you see me in public, please don’t address me?

    June 16, 2010
  4. I think (and that’s what I teach on my course too) being a medical professional online is different from any other professions. Yes, doctors must be aware of all the mistakes they can make while using Facebook, Twitter, etc. No, they shouldn’t publish party photos.

    I believe if a doctor knows all these potential problems, that’s the only way they can build an online representation and they can solve how to communicate with their patients properly.

    June 17, 2010
    • i find it a little hard to buy the “being a medical professional online is different from any other professions” logic. why? what makes us separate?

      June 17, 2010
  5. Being a medical professional comes with different kinds of responsibilities. I believe if you choose to become a doctor, you also choose a lifestyle in which publishing party photos online, etc. cannot be included because whenever someone checks your online profiles (they will) you must make sure those contain appropriate information.

    June 17, 2010
  6. kellybriefworld #

    As an IT consultant I am fully aware that IT management is struggling with whether social media is productive or obstructive for companies and their employees. Software is being developed and policy and restrictions are being decided everyday by IT managers. The security of company networks are at stake but the potential for innovation using social media is a large enough carrot for the discussion of how to properly utilize the medium continues. Palo Alto networks came up with a whitepaper,, which will explore the issues surrounding social media in the workplace. It is important to not only understand the immediate benefits of doing business how one lives, but the threat it presents to a company’s greater ROI and productivity when it comes to the server’s safety and security.

    June 21, 2010
  7. Check out Creating an Ironclad Social Media Policy. Free download at

    July 14, 2010
  8. Physicians are a resource for information about physical and emotional illness. To exclude patients from FB Fan Pages is a bit of overkill. The purpose of the Fan Page is to develop interest in conversation about the business (practice). Referral Marketing is the least expensive and at the same time, most profitable type of marketing. Why not encourage that through interaction based on the area of expertise?

    Absolutely no one should be sharing ‘deep, dark secrets’ online, or for that matter, home addresses, pictures of family and friends (especially children and elderly), specific travel or other personal plans… Posting, friending and following online should be based on common sense practices that utilize conservative privacy and security measures. If someone is online simply to keep up with family and friends, then why is their account visible to the public?

    In this age of information transparency, professional service providers (physicians, counselors, attorneys, accountants, etc.) that place themselves on a pedestal and refuse to communicate with clients and/or prospects are doing themselves and their community a disservice.

    May 27, 2011

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