Young doctors are apparently having trouble being objective and truthful with patients because they are blurring the boundaries between their personal and professional relationship.
These doctors are allowing patients to call them by their first name, be a friend on Facebook and even greet them with a hug.
They have now been warned that overstepping boundaries could lead to charges of violating professional guidance.
Once they have become friends it’s harder to have difficult conversations and break bad news. More than half of doctors surveyed said they had trouble telling the truth to patients they liked. and felt that if they were too empathetic they couldn’t make difficult decisions.
Half of the doctors surveyed had given patients their personal numbers, a fifth had accepted social invitations from patients, and 14% had accepted them on Facebook! What are they thinking!
Doctors are encourage to be more empathetic with patients but, as Professor Fallowfield from Brighton and Sussex medical school said, a pat on the arm is sufficient.
A spokeswomen for the General Medical Council said that “the rise in social media also brings new challenges and doctors must consider the risks involved and the impact it could have on the relationship with patients. Our guidance explains that the standards expected of doctors doesn’t change because they are communicating through social media rather than face-to-face”.
It’s not just doctors either. Some therapists and social workers introduce themselves to patients by their first name. I noticed at a treatment centre this week thats as nurses came out to call in patients they more often than not used a first name. Mine called me by my full name and that’s fine. Let’s have a friendly face but some clinical detachment.
And teachers have a special responsibility for your children when they are at school but that doesn’t mean you have to be friends with them. You wouldn’t want your kids to be singled out as a teacher’s pet or not be given objective feedback abut their progress would you?
They say “fences make good neighbours”; maybe maintaining professional boundaries ensure a better quality service for us too.