New Friend Request…From the Family Doctor?

It seems like every company, person, or product has a Facebook page nowadays. I’m not complaining — I actually really like being able to connect through Facebook. Several months ago, I noticed quite a few pages for hospitals or doctors popping up, and I even “liked” a few of them myself. After “liking” them, I didn’t think much of it, until one day I saw an update from one, Intermountain Moms. Apparently, every week, “Nurse Dani” answers the questions of moms everywhere. Simply write a question under the status update, and she answers it.

I thought this was pretty neat. In fact, I asked my own question. It was something that I felt silly calling my son’s pediatrician about but was worrying me. Within a matter of minutes, Nurse Dani responded to my question. Not only did she put my nerves to rest, but she was so kind in answering. It felt like I was talking to an old friend. As I read the rest of her responses to other mom’s questions, the same respect was given. And while I’m not about to start text messaging my nurses and doctors (so not ready for that kind of relationship), I think it’s nice that more health professionals are getting involved with their patients through social networking.

According to an article on US News, doctors across the country are connecting through Facebook, Twitter, and FourSquare. Apparently, there is a website called TwitterDoctors.net, which is essentially a place where doctors who “tweet” register their names and make it easy for patients to find them. This article talks about how different doctors are implementing social networking into their websites. Here is a little bit of what the author said:

Some doctors are latching onto social media to issue real-time alerts and reminders, a unarguably valuable service for time-pressed patients. Stream cites colleagues who tweet when they’re running late for appointments, for instance, so patients know they needn’t rush to the office. Others post hours for flu shot clinics and encourage patients not to overlook the vaccine.

To me, I think this is great. I would love to have these types of updates readily available. Who likes waiting at the doctor’s office? Recently, when we took my son to his well-child appointment, we waited an hour in the waiting room. Or being able to post my concerns or questions and receive instant feedback, especially concerning menial topics that are worrying me but may not warrant a doctor’s visit?

I can see some downsides to this though. The professional relationship between doctors, nurses, etc. with their patients might become a bit blurry. There should definitely be limits. Like, should patients and their doctors be actual Facebook friends? When I graduated from high school, I remember becoming friends with some of my former teachers. They refused to add students that were currently still in school, and I can see why. Once someone in a position of trust (i.e., a teacher or doctor) becomes more intimately invovled in one of their student’s or patient’s life, things can get weird.

But in general, as I’ve already said, I love that practitioners are becoming involved in social networking. Like it or not, that’s the way the world is going, and I think it would be wise for doctor’s to know at least the simple parts of social networking (and maybe hire a tech-savvy office assistant to manage the Facebook page).  As the article I previously mentioned quotes Kevin Pho, a medical blogger, saying:

These are powerful, tremendously influential tools. Doctors should be taking advantage of the opportunity.”

So what do you think? Is it a good thing that doctors and hospitals are getting involved with patients through social networks, or is it making the doctor-patient relationship too casual?