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Avoiding Patients on Facebook Is Healthier for Doctors, BMA Says

Social-networking services such as Facebook Inc. pose risks for doctors, who should “politely refuse” friend requests from patients and be wary of posting on Twitter, the British Medical Association said.

Health professionals and medical students should also adopt strict privacy settings on the websites, where unchecked candor may damage patient confidentiality and hurt a doctor’s job prospects, the London-based BMA, which represents about 140,000 U.K. physicians and medical students, said in guidelines issued today. Online social networks can “blur the boundary” between a doctor’s professional and private lives, the group said.

“Writing something on a social networking site is anything but a confidential or private medium,” said Tony Calland, chairman of the medical group’s ethics committee, who uses the “most strict” privacy settings for his Facebook account, in an interview. “You just have to ensure that there’s a proper separation between professional life and social life.”

A group of doctors and nurses in 2009 took pictures of themselves lying facedown in places such as hospital trolleys, ward floors and an ambulance helipad as part of a game called planking. They were suspended after posting the photos on Facebook, according to reports in U.K. newspapers.

About 60 percent of 78 U.S. medical schools surveyed that same year reported incidents of students posting unprofessional online content, such as profanity, according to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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