The decision to access patient information from a social media site: what would you do?

J Adolesc Health. 2011 Oct;49(4):414-20. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.02.004. Epub 2011 May 24.


Purpose: The current study examined the prevalence with which healthcare providers use a social media site (SMS) account (e.g., Facebook), the extent to which they use SMSs in clinical practice, and their decision-making process after accessing patient information from an SMS.

Methods: Pediatric faculty and trainees from a medical school campus were provided a SMS history form and seven fictional SMS adolescent profile vignettes that depicted concerning information. Participants were instructed to rate their personal use and beliefs about SMSs and to report how they would respond if they obtained concerning information about an adolescent patient from their public SMS profile.

Results: Healthcare providers generally believed it not to be an invasion of privacy to conduct an Internet/SMS search of someone they know. A small percentage of trainees reported a personal history of conducting an Internet search (18%) or an SMS search (14%) for a patient. However, no faculty endorsed a history of conducting searches for patients. Faculty and trainees also differed in how they would respond to concerning SMS adolescent profile information.

Conclusions: The findings that trainees are conducting Internet/SMS searches of patients and that faculty and trainees differ in how they would respond to concerning profile information suggest the need for specific guidelines regarding the role of SMSs in clinical practice. Practice, policy, and training implications are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Access to Information* / ethics
  • Access to Information* / psychology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Decision Making*
  • Faculty, Medical / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Florida
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pediatrics
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • Social Media / statistics & numerical data*
  • Students, Medical / psychology
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult