Viewing Social Media Posts About Ongoing Care Could Harm Patient-Physician Relationship
Some parents post detailed accounts of their child’s medical situation on social media. Clinicians might question whether it is ethical to view those posts as a member of the healthcare team.
“Neither hospital policies nor large pediatric organization policies offer clear recommendations for this scenario,” says Imogen Clover-Brown, MD, a pediatrics resident at Cincinnati Children’s.
Recently, a resident physician was caring for a child whose parent posted about their life at home managing many hospitalizations and complex medical needs. The resident heard about the parent’s account from other members of the healthcare team who had known the family for a long time and was considering viewing the parent’s posts.
“As a millennial physician, I noticed myself and my other younger colleagues had different opinions of the topic than colleagues from older generations,” Clover-Brown observes.
Clover-Brown and colleagues explored this situation in the hopes of providing guidance.1 The authors agreed that, ideally, providers should discuss concerns with patients or family directly, instead of viewing social media posts surreptitiously. “Healthcare providers should consider their motivations before seeking out social media content shared by patients or families, even if that content is publicly available,” Clover-Brown advises.
Clinicians might be motivated to understand the patient’s home life better, to see how the healthcare team is portrayed, or just simple curiosity. Regardless, the clinician’s goals in viewing the content likely can be better achieved by speaking directly with the patient or family, according to Clover-Brown. “Consuming this content may damage provider-patient relationships by reinforcing biases or degrading trust,” warns Clover-Brown.
For instance, if the provider does not like “influencers” or “mommy bloggers,” viewing the content could make the clinician think negatively about the family. Worse, the clinician might believe the content misrepresents the care that was provided or misrepresents conversations with the medical team. “That could damage the therapeutic relationship,” Clover-Brown says.
By bringing concerns to the family directly, the clinician gives the family the chance to provide context to the posts.
“Professional organizations and medical institutions should establish new social media guidelines that reflect the current and evolving nature of social media, which is more complex than simple two-way ‘friendships,’” Clover-Brown suggests. Providers also must set their own boundaries regarding this situation and how to respond ethically. “Public content can arise unsolicited via algorithms,” Clover-Brown notes. “Providers should be proactive and make a plan before they see this content pop up in their feed.”
1. Clover-Brown I, Moore B, Andrews CG, Antommaria AHM. Ethical issues with patient-provider interactions in an evolving social media landscape. Pediatrics 2023;151:e2022060066.
Clinicians might be motivated to understand the patient’s home life better, to see how the healthcare team is portrayed, or just simple curiosity. Regardless, the clinician’s goals in viewing the content likely can be better achieved by speaking directly with the patient or family.
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