The other day I met an endocrinologist (no, this is not the setup for a bad hormone joke). She described the nervousness among her colleagues when they receive Facebook friend requests from their patients. The American Medical Association tells its members, in so many words, be very very careful. Accordingly, 75% of US physicians receiving friend requests from patients decline them. The British Medical Association explicitly urges physicians to “Just Say No“:
“Difficult ethical issues can arise if, for example, doctors become party to information about their patients that is not disclosed as part of a clinical consultation. The BMA recommends that doctors and medical students who receive friend requests from current or former patients should politely refuse and explain to the patient the reasons why it would be inappropriate for them to accept the request.”
Do lawyers decline friend requests from their clients? What about orthodontists from their patients?
What are these ethical issues? Is this about separating one’s work from one’s personal life? Liability? HIPAA Privacy? Or something else?
The doctor-patient relationship is intimate, fragile, important. But does it preclude friendship, even of the highly curated online variety?