There are so many ways to share health information online and in social media. You can create content to educate the public about injuries and illnesses. You can explain treatments and surgeries. You can even promote injury prevention and health improvement.
Should you use your personal blog to communicate information with patients?
If you look through the pages and posts of my website, you will see that I don’t use my platform as a means to interact with my patients. On my Contact form, I even specifically ask my current patients to contact my office for any questions and concerns. I try to keep my personal website and social media separate from my practice.
I don’t think it is always a bad idea for doctors and healthcare providers to communicate online with patients, but let me share a few of my concerns.
Any discussion of specific medical information should be done in a way that is private and not shared with the public. It might be possible to create private portals where only you and the patient converse, but I would be wary of doing it in blog comments or discussion forums.
Any communication with a patient should be added to his or her medical record. I’m sure software exists that can transfer emails and other interactions into an electronic medical record system. I just think it’s easier and safer to avoid specific medical discussions online in the first place.
Time of response
If you do interact with patients online, do you check and respond to messages every few hours? What happens if a patient asks about an urgent problem online? In my case, I respond to 50 to 75 blog comments and Contact form submissions every 2 to 3 days rather than answer a few every couple of hours. I think you might have an obligation to check messages much more often if patients are allowed to submit them.
Issues with your practice or hospital
I could write a book going through all of the issues between personal platforms for healthcare professionals versus those of a practice or hospital. Suffice it to say that it can be a tricky relationship. I am an advocate of doctors and healthcare providers creating personal platforms separate from where they work. Communicating with your patients on your own site or social media could blur those lines and create trouble.
There are probably ways to help patients without directly answering their questions online. Creating a Frequently Asked Questions page for patients undergoing surgery would be a helpful one that might not cause too many problems.
Plus, I am not an attorney or programmer. There are surely ways to communicate online privately and in a manner that preserves the doctor-patient relationship. Just decide upfront if you will communicate with patients on your site or if you want to keep it for information and education only.