Comment/Correction: Facebook friends with your doctor: good medicine or ethically ‘icky’? | The Seattle Times

Facebook friends with your doctor: good medicine or ethically 'icky'? | Local News | The Seattle Times.

This is an article where friends (and people I admire), Wendy Sue Swanson, MD ( @seattlemamadoc) , Jen Dyer, MD (@endogoddess), and Matt Handley, MD (@matthandley), discuss the use of social media by physicians.

I am also quoted, and need to make a quick correction and a comment.

The correction: the article implies that I direct the work of the 17,000 physicians of Kaiser Permanente. The correct information is that this is done by the Executive Medical Directors of the 8 Permanente Medical Groups and Group Health Physicians. I work for the umbrella organization that supports them.

The comment: Per my quote in the article:

“Our doctors email patients at home, on vacation, at work; we’ve gotten very comfortable with it,”

I feel a lot of the drive for people to be having this conversation about physicians using social media with their patients is rooted in the fact that their doctors are not accessible by e-mail (or mobile phone as is the case at both Kaiser Permanente and Group Health). If the goal, as the first sentence of the article states, is to start where patients are (a good goal), then physicians should really accelerate the use of these secure, workflow preserving, messaging tools. It’s true that when you begin to communicate with your patients outside of the medical office, you learn that they have lives outside of the medical office. Social media can be a venue for this communication, but it does not have to be the venue for this communication. What patients want is communication, not the use of a specific tool. And the corollary to all of this is that if you need to plan to communicate well with any tool.

Meanwhile, in the first half of 2012, 6,781,595 secure emails were sent to physicians and other clinicians at Kaiser Permanente. Speaking of communication, 3,202,548 messages were initiated by physicians and clinicians to patients.

In the end, I think we are all saying the same thing, which is that patients deserve high quality communication with their physicians, and no physician hopes to communicate poorly with their patients. There are tools that exist today to allow this to happen well at the same time we explore how friending, following, and other new types of relationships interact with the patient-physician relationship. No need to wait!

Hope this helps, questions and comments welcome.


Ted Eytan, MD