The patient-doctor relationship and online social networks: Results of a national survey

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173 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: The use of online social networks (OSNs) among physicians and physicians-in-training, the extent of patient-doctor interactions within OSNs, and attitudes among these groups toward use of OSNs is not well described. Objective: To quantify the use of OSNs, patient interactions within OSNs, and attitudes toward OSNs among medical students (MS), resident physicians (RP), and practicing physicians (PP) in the United States. Design/Setting: A random, stratified mail survey was sent to 1004 MS, 1004 RP, and 1004 PP between February and May 2010. Measurements: Percentage of respondents reporting OSN use, the nature and frequency of use; percentage of respondents reporting friend requests by patients or patients' family members, frequency of these requests, and whether or not they were accepted; attitudes toward physician use of OSNs and online patient interactions. Results: The overall response rate was 16.0% (19.8% MS, 14.3% RP, 14.1% PP). 93.5% of MS, 79.4% of RP, and 41.6% of PP reported usage of OSNs. PP were more likely to report having visited the profile of a patient or patient's family member (MS 2.3%, RP 3.9%, PP 15.5%), and were more likely to have received friend requests from patients or their family members (MS 1.2%, RP 7.8%, PP 34.5%). A majority did not think it ethically acceptable to interact with patients within OSNs for either social (68.3%) or patient-care (68.0%) reasons. Almost half of respondents (48.7%) were pessimistic about the potential for OSNs to improve patient-doctor communication, and a majority (79%) expressed concerns about maintaining patient confidentiality. Conclusion: Personal OSN use among physicians and physicians-in-training mirrors that of the general population. Patient-doctor interactions take place within OSNs, and are more typically initiated by patients than by physicians or physicians-in-training. A majority of respondents view these online interactions as ethically problematic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1168-1174
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Volume26
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2011

Keywords

  • bioethics
  • computer communication networks
  • doctor-patient relations
  • Internet
  • professionalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine

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