A Smart Approach To Medicine And Social Media

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?

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

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.

1 Comment

  • I’m not trying to suck all of the fun out of the room…really…

    Dr. Vartabedian definitely has a process, which is good.

    I’m curious if this is written in his policies…I would expect it to be.

    I may be reaching here, but I still think this is problematic. Blame it on the HIPAA hat I often wear, but…
    While I read his post I get the impression that he doesn’t post PHI…yet if a current patient (child in his case?) asks him a question on Facebook about the fact that they haven’t had a BM in 3 weeks…I see that as an issue.

    You see, HIPAA compliance is all about managing risk. Yes the patient initiated the communication, I get it, but when you get dragged into court because this child is now a victim of online bullying, part of the cross examination will be:
    “Did you make yourself available on Facebook for medical advice?”
    “Did you have a disclaimer that no personal or medical questions will be answered on Facebook?”
    “Did you have any statement whatsoever notifying visitors that they should not post any personal or medical condition on your Facebook page?’
    I rest my case.

    Dr. Vartabedian goes to lengths to reduce his risk, but the reality is…by fostering patient feedback on social media, risk is all over the place.

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