Doctors ‘Friending’ Patients on Facebook: Good Business or Bad Ethics?

The social media tsunami has changed most industries; now it is in the process of changing the way health care is administered. The days of unidirectional communication from doctor to patient are over. Now the patient is partnering with the doctor. The patient is also researching online for healthcare information and advice including social media sites.

Should doctors “friend” their patients on Facebook? No. But doctors do need to understand how social media is changing not only the healthcare scene, but also the way business is being done.

Healthcare social media sounds like a HIPAA violation just waiting to happen. But with strategic advance planning and a sound social media policy, healthcare social media can actually advance the doctor-patient partnership as well as offer a collaborative medium for networking and consulting. Additionally, social media is an excellent tool for marketing a practice or healthcare organization.

Influencing Patient Research

Because patients are searching for answers online, the doctor can streamline the process by creating and curating highly relevant content that directly related to these questions. In this way, a doctor can ensure that the type of information his or her patients are finding is authoritative and accurate.

By putting up a website the doctor has an online presence where a variety of information can be posted. Once the site is up, the content that is created and curated can be kept at the top of the search engines with frequently refreshed content, including a blog with posts about items in the news and evergreen topics that patients ask about over and over.

Doctors will also need a presence in most of the popular social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In to:

  • ·         Build their brand.
  • ·         Announce and link to authoritative and relevant content.
  • ·         Monitor the online information trends.

Regulatory Compliance and Ethics

Healthcare social media does need to completely avoid any mention of patient information, including any provider enrollment and certainly any personal information about the patient or his treatment. This means that any social media conversation must be treated as if it is not only in public, but written in stone where anyone can see.

Farris Timimi, Medical Director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media says it best, “Don’t lie. Don’t pry. Don’t cheat. Can’t delete. Don’t steal. Don’t reveal.”

As part of an overall business plan it is also best to reveal credentials as well as conflicts of interest.


This isn’t to say that there is no place for doctors to converse about patient care and office practices. Sites such as Doximity and Webicina are coming online to give physicians an online space to network and collaborate on patient care. These sites give doctors a place to consult without leaving the office making healthcare more efficient and effective.


The internet is the first place many people go to look for just about anything, including healthcare, which is increasingly commoditized. Physician’s practices and healthcare organizations are turning to social media as part of an overall marketing strategy to find new patients.  A doctor’s practice is a business, however much it was frowned on in the past for a doctor to advertise. Between lower reimbursement rates and the increasing costs of running a practice, physicians must increase the number of “customers” they have and compete against other physicians in the same field.

Healthcare social media is a considerable part of that effort which ties together the website, any branding such as logos, and content placed on other sites to build brand awareness.

Doctor’s shouldn’t “friend” their patients online but they should make sure their practice has a strong presence in social media.

Written by David Kaufer

David Kaufer is Founding Partner and Chief Dynamic Office in Kaufer DMC. He’s also a huge Oregon Ducks & Microbrew nut, Dad of awesome 8 year-old twin boys, husband, and big Sustainability and Autism advocate.

Published December 10, 2014 by David Kaufer.
Categories: Facebook, Healthcare Marketing, Social Media