Social Media, the Doctor-Patient Relationship, and Liability

Social media is everywhere, including medicine. But, what does this new boom in technology mean for the doctor-patient relationship and a physician’s liability? And, what role does liability insurance play? As physicians get more and more comfortable online, Tweeting, posting to their practice’s Facebook page, answering e-mails from patients, are they opening themselves up to new liability risks? At what point is there a doctor-patient relationship? Can it be forged via an exchange on Facebook, or a few e-mails? What do we know about the law, the doctor-patient relationship and liability insurance? Or, quite simply, is it too early to tell?

In the world of med mal, the establishment of a doctor-patient relationship is critical to a malpractice claim. I recently read a nice article on Medscape discussing this topic, entitled, “Is This a Real Doctor-Patient Relationship?

One of the several situations the article discussed pertained to telephone and internet conversations. The article said that a doctor-patient relationship should be presumed in the following situations:
1)If a physician calls an established patient to discuss a case, or
2) If a doctor discusses a case with a patient via videoconferencing, like Skype.

So, according to the article, the patient does not have to be in your office to establish a relationship. The article goes on to discuss a physician who responds to a person on a blog with generic information about a disease. At that point, the article says there “probably” is no relationship, but if the physician suggests that the individual schedule an appointment with his or her office, a relationship has been formed. Or, if the person schedules an appointment with the physician’s office, a relationship has also been formed.

The article goes on to discuss several other tricky situations, like taking call for a partner, and curbside consults, etc., and is worth reading. However, don’t get your legal advice from an article! We expect to see many new claims arising from the use of social media and technology. And, as always, we here at encourage our physicians to consult their liability insurance agents to find out how their policy would handle such claims.

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