How to Set Social Media Boundaries with Your Patients

As a health care provider, do your patients contact you using social media applications like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter? While it may seem like a no-brainer that patients shouldn’t do this, we hear stories of social media intrusion every time we lead one of our T2 training sessions on integrating health care technology into clinical practice.

Consider the ways that users engage with Facebook Messenger—because it’s accessible on mobile devices and computers, many individuals use it as a primary communication method, even preferring it over text messaging because it’s free. For these folks, Facebook Messenger may seem like a natural way to reach out—not a test of relationship boundaries.

Just as we warn our patients that we may not respond to voicemail within 24 hours, it’s also important to set expectations for social media contact. We recommend listing all acceptable forms of communication in your consent for treatment or service agreement (including whether you will respond to email and texts), including a section on your use of social media. Feel free to steal from mine:

“SOCIAL MEDIA: I do not communicate with, or contact, any of my clients through social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.”

Even more important than having these written statements is having a discussion about acceptable methods of communication (especially if you work in a setting in which you are not able to easily add to your written documentation). We recommend having this discussion during an intake session if possible, although the reaction I usually get is “Oh, of course!” But by speaking about social media during your first patient contact, you’ll save your patient embarrassment and even perceived rejection later on.

Connect with us on Facebook to share your advice for setting expectations for patient communication. What suggestions do you have for preventing social media mishaps?

Julie T. Kinn, Ph.D. is a research psychologist at DHA Connected Health.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


Read other posts by Dr. Julie Kinn