Academy Providing Social Media Resources for Family Physicians

Document Offers Tips on What to Do, What to Avoid

June 19, 2013 05:00 pm News Staff

Although delegates to the National Congress of Family Medicine Residents, the National Congress of Student Members and the Congress of Delegates are at different stages in their training and careers and have disparate needs, all three groups adopted resolutions last year calling on the AAFP to provide family physicians with guidelines regarding the use of social media. Now, the Academy has delivered.

[Stock photo-finger touching social media network screen]

"Social Media for Family Physicians: Guidelines and Resources for Success," covers a lot of ground in just 15 pages, including tips on getting started, professionalism, patient privacy, responding to online mistakes, commenting guidelines and more.

The new social media resource recommends that physicians explore the use of social media and decide individually if social media is right for their practice, patients and community. The document also points out some reasons family physicians might want to use social media, including keeping patients engaged and informed, communicating with peers, and sharing information with legislators.

For AAFP members who decide to dive into social media -- or who have already dove in -- this resource can help determine goals, audience and the appropriate platform to reach an audience in a way that best fits an individual practice.

Included in the materials are numerous examples of physicians who use social media to educate patients and the public, as well as some FPs who use social media to share news -- and their perspective -- with other physicians, policymakers and the public.

"In a nutshell, physicians should seek to contribute educational content to enable the public or their peer community to benefit from their knowledge and experience," says the document. "If you decide to focus on giving patients accurate health information, don't veer into online diagnosis. Limit yourself to sharing general medical insights and debunking misleading information found online."

Other activities that could draw the scrutiny of medical boards and best practices for handling communication with patients also are covered, including this tip: "We recommend that physicians not accept patient friend requests in their personal social networks. This not only protects the physician from exposure to litigation but maintains the boundary needed for a professional physician-patient relationship.

"Facebook, in particular, offers a way to keep this boundary intact by the use of a business page. Facebook business pages allow physicians to post information, moderate questions and comments, plus analyze which posts were most relevant through a robust series of page and post metrics. That said, if the physician chooses to engage with patients on social channels, such as Facebook, the key becomes how and where patient questions are answered."