Social Networking: Blurring the Professional Boundary

As readers of this blog know, we love to discuss how social media tools can improve the patient experience via social networking platforms. While social networking provides a new and intimate layer of service to patients, it also comes with unintended gotchas emanating from the ever-changing social platforms.

Social media has the capacity to blur the ethical line in the patient-dentist relationship. Unlike professional interactions in the operatory, social networking sites lend themselves to (encourage, perhaps) more casual dialogue – leading to the potential erosion of professional boundaries set by the dentist (and staff) in the office. Nowhere does this become more problematic than when patients want to “friend,” or connect with their dentist on a social platform.

Be mindful of who you “friend” on social networking sites.

Social networking is all about maintaining relationships with online “friends.” Practices using social networking platforms should be mindful however, of the connections made online. Practitioners wishing to avoid crossing professional boundaries and safeguard patient privacy may find themselves in a quandary as “friending” a patient may lead to a host of problems, including unwanted appeals for therapeutic advice, an inadvertent expansion into both the patient’s and practitioner’s broader online network and unexpected appearances in search results connected to the patient and the practitioner.

In the social networking space, striking a “friending” balance can be a challenge for the practitioner. Common sense may lead the practitioner to the conclusion that “friending” online is too risky. Though this may be true, denying an invitation to connect online may be hurtful to some patients. How can a practitioner avoid hurt feelings yet maintain professional integrity? One method is to create a “House Rules” policy for each of the practice’s chosen social media pages. As an example, we have one for, and for Patterson Dental’s Facebook page. For a practice, one may wish to establish a rule that says something like, “For your privacy, no ‘friending’ the dentist please.”

Please share your comments about how you maintain professional integrity in the social media space. Have you put any “rules” in place in order to do so?

One thought on “Social Networking: Blurring the Professional Boundary

  1. For Facebook, the Dr. should restrict their profile from searches in the privacy settings.

    For those on Google+, be mindful of what you post publicly. If you have a patient that circles you, use the “following” circle to add them. Using that specific circle will allow you to 1. not shun your patient and 2. only allow them to see your public postings.

    Twitter users can opt to make their tweets private. Doing that will only allow users you have granted permission to view your tweets. It also requires your approval when someone tries to follow you. There are some downsides to this, so look into it more before you decide to make your tweets private.

    Generally, a professional such as a dentist should really pay attention to what they post online anyway. Social media can either make or break you.

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