Have you “friended” your patients on Facebook? A new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that many patients are communicating with their physician by email or Facebook, despite professional recommendations on limiting these practices.

Joy Lee, PhD, from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, and colleagues conducted a survey of 2,252 retail pharmacy users with at least one chronic condition in the household from May to June of 2013. Participants were asked questions in their interest in using online communication tools such as email, social media, or their physician’s website to fill their prescriptions, track their health progress, and access their health information.

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Overall, 37% of respondents reported that they had contacted their physicians by email in the past six months and 18% had contacted their physician via Facebook. Patients aged 25–44 had the highest rates of online communication with their physicians; a total of 49% of this age group stated that they had used these tools to communication with their doctors in the past six months vs. only 34% of those aged 45–64 and 26% of those aged ≥65. Patients were also very keen to using online communication for prescriptions, as 7% were currently using email to fill prescriptions and 46% expressed an interest in this.

It is recommended by the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards that physicians limit communication with patients via email, separate professional and personal online personas, and not “friend” or contact patients through social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. Dr. Lee noted that although most institutions discourage physicians from contacting patients through social media, this practice may grow as familiarity and use of Facebook grows.

For more information visit JHSPH.edu.