The Blurry Line of "Friending" Your Doctor

Women's hand typing on mobile smartphone, sending messages to a friend.

Social media gives us the opportunity to connect with just about anyone — distant relatives, neighbors, childhood friends and people we may not even know but share similar interests or experiences with. 

But what’s the protocol when sending a friend request or message to your doctor or nurse over social media?

Should I Friend My Doctor or Nurse?

For most people, a friend request is simply a gesture of wanting to know more about a member of their care team outside of the exam room. Some may also view it as an opportunity to keep their doctor or nurse posted on any health issues they might be having between visits. Because of the number of UnityPoint Health locations in small to mid-size communities, many patients are already connected to members of their care team online and through social activities.  

Whether you see your doctor or nurse outside the office, on the sidelines of the soccer field or just on social media, it can be tricky to know when it’s appropriate to engage in conversations about you or your family member’s health. Most organizations, including The American Medical Association and American Colleges of Physicians, recommend medical professionals don’t engage with patients on social platforms.

Why Doesn’t My Doctor Approve My Friend Request?

It’s a UnityPoint Health policy, too, that doctors and nurses don’t discuss health issues with patients on social media or outside of work — and for good reason. If your provider were to engage in a discussion with you about your personal health information on social media, he or she would be violating the law. It’s also risky for doctors to provide medical advice on social media because of state licensing laws based on where a person resides.

Pediatrician Andrea White, MD, UnityPoint Health, says most medical professionals do want to be more accessible to their patients, but it all comes down to safety.

“If I see a parent at the food stands during our kids’ game, and they ask me a health question about their child who is a patient of mine, it makes what seems like a simple conversation hard to navigate,” Dr. White says. “I could forget to note the issue in the child’s chart, or not be able to recall which medications the child is on, etc. I want to have those important details in front of me before giving medical advice.”

How Can I Safely Connect With My Doctor?

Luckily, there’s a way to take those questions offline and off the field, without having to make an appointment or phone call. UnityPoint Health offers MyUnityPoint, a patient portal, which allows you to securely and privately message your care team for non-emergent issues and manage your health information.

You can also use MyUnityPoint to:

  • Check test results
  • Schedule appointments online
  • Pay your bills
  • Use eCheck-in to reduce the time it takes to register in the office
  • Use Fast Pass to be notified if an earlier appointment becomes available

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The portal is HIPAA compliant as well, meaning your patient health information is secure and protected. Conversations outside the clinic, on Facebook and other popular social media platforms are not.

If it’s a question that can wait, it’s always best to use the patient portal or call during regular business hours. Dr. White says she and her staff respond to patients within 24 hours, and it can replace playing phone tag while you’re busy at work or home.

If you’re experiencing a health issue that needs immediate attention, depending on the severity, you can always call the UnityPoint Health after hours line, see a provider in the comfort of your home through Virtual Care, get checked out at a UnityPoint Health emergency room or at any of our urgent care locations. 

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