Should Nurse Practitioners Become Facebook Friends With Their Patients? 5 Things to Consider

With the social media boom, lines between personal and professional lives become blurred.  What is posted online stays online.  Even if your Facebook profile is labeled "private", I am certain there is still a way anyone persistent enough can see your information and photos.  This is why I recommend removing all of your boozing party pics from college before sending out resumes (you should also leave them off of your profile for the remainder of your professional life- you can put them back up when you retire).  With this blurring of the personal and professional and the wealth of personal information online, naturally this question arises: should you become Facebook friends with your patients?

Ultimately, the decision is up to you, but here are some things to consider:

1. Social Media is Culturally Relevant

Your patients are all using social media- probably even in your office while they wait for their appointments.  Twitter, Linked-In and Facebook, these are places your patients get their information.  By forming an online relationship with your patients, you will be able to reach them more effectively.  Are you trying to help many of your patients lose weight?  Develop a Twitter account for weight loss tips and daily reminders to assist your patients with weight loss even when you can't be with them.  This will make your preventative healthcare far better than that of other NP's and MD's.  

I must also mention the use of e-mail in relation to cultural relevance.  I believe willingness to e-mail your patients is a necessity.  Calling a medical office can be frustrating.  Your patients want to be able to reach you easily.  E-mail will take less time than you think and your patients will appreciate your efforts.  The ability to schedule appointments online on your clinic's website is also a must!

2. Privacy and Legal Concerns With Social Media

We are all well aware of the infamous HIPPA law.  Patient information is private.  You cannot share it in any way shape or form.  Beware of posting anything at all about your work on your personal Facebook or Twitter account.  It is so easy to mistakenly reveal a patient's private information online, I believe it is best not to post anything at all.  All patient stories posted through MidlevelU are not "real" patients.  

Legally, posting anything about your work as a nurse practitioner also puts you at risk.  I have been advised not to post if I have had a "good day" or "bad day" at work.  If  a malpractice case is presented, these statements will be scrutinized and could be used against you or a co-worker. 

3. Setting Boundaries

An online relationship with your patients can help you view your patients as a "whole" rather than simply a medical diagnosis.  Taking into consideration your patient's lifestyles and how their health affects their lives can help you become a better provider.  There are some things about your life, however you should probably keep private.  According to the Seattle Times, a recent survey found that 90 percent of state medical boards reported at least one online professional standards violation by a doctor.  Nurse practitioners who "friend" their patients must keep their social media profiles clean and appropriate. 

4. Building Your Practice

Social media is an excellent business building tool.  Your patient's have chosen you as their healthcare provider.  Using social media, you can communicate with them outside of the usual office visit increasing their confidence in and relationship with you as a healthcare provider.  Social media also allows you to encourage new patients to visit your clinic further expanding your practice. 

5. Becoming Personable

Most patients want to see you as a person.  Because you are providing them and their families healthcare, they need to trust you.  By giving glimpses of your personality and life as a whole, your patients will trust you more allowing your to have a greater impact on their health.

Given the benefits and drawbacks of involvement in social media among healthcare providers, I think there is an easy solution.  Create a social media for your practice or specialty.  Rather than "friending" your patients using your personal Facebook page, create a page for your practice or a page for you personally that you use only for professional use.  This will allow to you extend your healthcare knowledge and advice to patients at home and give a glimpse of your personality to your patients without leaking any old sorority photos into your professional presence.