A Smart Approach To Medicine And Social Media

Posted on August 29, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

It’s always a pleasure to touch base with the thoughtful blog  (33 Charts) written by pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Bryan Vartabedian. This time, I caught a piece on how Dr. Vartabedian handles social media communication with patients, and I thought it was well worth a share.

While your mileage may vary, here’s some key ways Dr. Vartabedian handles medical contact online with consumers:

* He never answers patient-specific questions from strangers

As he notes, people generally ask two kinds of questions, patient-specific and non-patient specific. While he’s glad to answer general questions, he never answers patient-specific ones from strangers, as it could be construed that he’s created a professional relationship with the person asking the question.

* He guides patients he’s treating offline

If an existing patient messages Dr. Vartabedian, he messages back that he’d be happy to do a phone call. He then addresses their concern via phone, while explaining to patients how both he and they could face serious privacy issues if too much comes out online. Oh, and most importantly, he documents the phone encounter, noting that the patient who reached out in  public.

* He flatly turns down requests for info from people he loosely knows

The only exception he makes is for family and very close friends.  In those cases he arranges evening phone time and spends 45 minutes getting facts so he can offer high-quality direction.

I really like the way Dr. Vartabedian has outlined his options here — it’s clear, simple, and virtually impossible to misunderstand.  It’s hard to imagine anyone being offended by these policies, or more importantly, having their privacy violated.  Good to see!

If you’re a doctor how do you handle your social media interactions with patients?