Your doctor and social media

By • Published: January 11th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Seems like everyone’s jumping on the social media bandwagon these days. From grandma to the White House, it’s almost difficult to find a person or business that isn’t tweeting or updating a profile in some social media forum. Many doctors and hospitals are joining the fun, too.

Patients may view their doctor’s or hospital’s social media pages as great places to ask questions about their own health. But is that really a good idea?

The answer is no. Your doctor may have an active presence on Facebook or Twitter, but dispensing medical advice should not be the purpose of these accounts. There are big problems with any health-care professional or organization giving advice to individual patients this way.

A federal law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requires providers to guard patients’ identities and personal information, including information about patients’ health issues, zealously. The law allows stiff penalties for violators.

Providing health advice to specific patients through social media means your provider cannot guarantee the privacy of the information exchanged, and that’s a big no-no.

Though you may be seeking just some basic health knowledge, be aware that asking a medical question through social media puts your doctor in a sticky situation. It’s best to discuss these concerns over the phone or in person so that it’s easier to maintain your privacy.

The next time you have a question about your health, pick up the phone and give your doctor a call. He or she probably will be glad to give you some answers in this more private manner, and you won’t have to worry about exposing your personal health issues on the Internet. Now that’s a web-savvy move.