Would you feel weird if you saw online pictures of your family practitioner doing keg stands in his off-hours?

Physicians are trying to prevent this from happening by denying friend requests from patients, according to a recent study.

Researchers surveyed 202 postgraduate trainee doctors at Rouen University Hospital in France and found that about three out of every four had a Facebook account (no surprises here).

Of those surveyed, 85 percent said they would automatically decline friendship requests from patients, as reported online in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Almost half of those surveyed thought the doctor-patient relationship would be compromised if patients found out their docs were logging onto Facebook, but three out of four said the relationship would only be changed if the patient could access their profile.

You’d think then that the docs would at least lock down their privacy settings, but according to the report, 61 percent claimed to have changed at least one of the default privacy settings, but 17 percent couldn’t remember if they had or not.

Of those surveyed, 98 percent displayed personal information like their real names and birth dates. Ninety-one percent displayed a profile photo, and 59 percent provided info on their current training site.

Only six percent had actually received a friend request from a patient, and only four accepted said request. But the authors suggest friend requests from patients could become more common in the future.

According to Medical News, the authors concluded:

Careful reflection is needed to define better the implications of electronic communication media on the traditional role of doctors and on the new aspects of medical professionalism.

Study authors said doctors need to keep a safe social distance away from their patients to outweigh the fear of embarrassing someone who sought treatment.

This new interaction (whether it is romantic or not) results in an ethically problematic situation because it is unrelated to direct patient care… Moreover public availability of information on a doctor’s private life may threaten the mutual confidence between doctor and patient if the patient accesses information not intended for them.

Do you think hospitals need to put a firm social media policy in place? What would that mean for health care providers?