Emerging research investigates the ethical and medical privacy ramifications in the use of social media to aid clinical treatment.
In today’s world, the opportunity to be transparent and share information about yourself with others is easy. Be it tweet it, snap it, pin it, post it… there is a method to share information with others, often with an intent of obtaining common ground connectivity.
Given this information ubiquity, should doctors be allowed to access, review, and then take action if they see a problem?
In a new study, University Hospitals Case Medical Center Psychiatrist Stephanie Pope, M.D., examined the impact of social media on mental health care and treatment.
She specifically investigated how the public forums could help diagnoses in clinical practice as well as serving as behavioral predictors.
Her analysis also explored the ethical aspects of patient/doctor relationships that utilize social media outlets.
Study findings were enlightening as Dr. Pope discovered that doctors and patients are communicating via social networks, an interaction that sometimes blur lines of their relationships.
Pope discovered instances where social media research of patients in treatment helped to prevent injury. Although these episodes were documented, she found that definitive, institutional policy, and procedures were sorely lagging causing potential issues in patient care.
Dr. Pope will present the study, “Social Media and Psychiatry” at the American Psychiatric Association Meeting in May in Toronto.
In her research, she surveyed psychiatrists and psychologists to better understand social media significance, impact as well as particular guidelines and ethics associated with patient/doctor relationships.
She also examined the intersection of ethical, professional, and legal considerations on social platforms. The transparency of the communication channel sometimes creates ambiguous and complex interactions between health professionals and patients.
“This study was conducted as an effort to demonstrate the clinical implications of social media and form an understanding of the legal and ethical consequences of social media within practice,” said Pope.
“Institutions across the country lack protocols relating to the media forms and professional guidelines need to be established.”
The numbers associated with social media usage are staggering. In 2013, Facebook alone had 751 million users while Twitter continued to surge with 555 million accounts that averaged 58 million tweets every day.
The amount of personal information such as photos, hometown information, and cell phone numbers are easily accessible online. Additionally, new mediums continued to surface as well where people share information such as Snapchat and Instagram.
The statistics and data don’t necessarily get risky until they enter into the personal health realm where 60 percent of patients are seeking support, knowledge, and information about their own health utilizing social media platforms.
The medical community has followed suit with the trending numbers of social media users.
According to a study in 2008, 64 percent of medical students and 13 percent of residents were active on Facebook and of that percentage only 37 percent of those active kept their profiles private, away from potential patients. Most recently, the data showed a substantial spike in active profiles held by doctors and medical students with almost 90 percent maintaining some sort of social media accounts.
Dr. Pope’s research noted that doctors and patients can effectively use the social forums to help their conditions and find support, while selecting the best options for care. Additionally, doctors can use social media for a number of positive aspects, but that clear, definable protocols should be set in place.
Dr. Pope’s also focused her research and analyzed social media’s impact on her area of expertise and found alarming statistics relating to suicidal ideations, behaviors, and specific illnesses. Most importantly, the validation of social media aiding in treatment and being clinically relevant became obvious.
“We need to understand the magnitude that social media is having on our clinical practice but at the same time we need to develop patient/doctor boundaries,” said Dr. Pope.
“When a patient comes to the emergency room and has had thoughts about suicide, social media channels can help… but how, when and if can use this information is at the core of the argument.”