Using social media in medical practice is espoused by some and condemned by others. Some see social media as the future of medicine and have already fully incorporated it into their daily schedule. Others fear it discourages actual human interaction and distances providers from their patients.

One of the biggest universal concerns is the real potential for providers to violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) using social media. As Facebook and Twitter have exploded in popularity over the past few years, health-care providers and institutions have scrambled to create policies and guidelines for acceptable conduct.

Recently, there have been stories in the news of practitioners losing their jobs over Facebook posts that violated confidentiality laws. Many of my colleagues struggle with keeping their private and professional lives separate since the advent of Twitter and Facebook, and nearly all of us have debate whether it’s appropriate to accept patients as Facebook friends. 

Medical blogs are wildly popular, and seem harmless enough. Many providers even use them as education tools for their patients, answering common questions and concerns in an easily accessible forum. But this can create a problem when patients blur the line between the blogger’s opinion and true medical advice. Some practices and medical institutions frown upon employees blogging their opinions on controversial medical topics.

But many major health institutions are using social media in positive ways. For example, I follow the CDC twitter feed on STD prevention to receive the latest updates and guidelines. In fact, I use Twitter to get much of my news on the latest developments in health and medicine.

When used properly, social networking platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and blogs, have the potential to improve the way medical providers share information.

Gone are the days of waiting until your annual professional meeting to discuss a rare outcome or unusual medication side effect with colleagues. We now have the ability to connect with other practitioners around the globe and discuss medical issues, disease outbreaks or new ideas and techniques almost instantaneously.

It’s time for the medical world to embrace the world of social media and all that it has to offer, while being mindful of potential pitfalls. Are you using social media in your daily practice? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.