Drug liking: the dilemma of being friends with doctors on social media


Argentine TV presenter and actress Mirta Legrand underwent abdominal surgery in 2019 and when she reappeared in her program, she commented: “Warm greetings to my doctor Guillermo Semenyuk, a great doctor.” After the pandemic began, her twin sister died and her doctor persuaded her not to wake up because of the risk of coronavirus infection. In 2021, stents were placed in his heart arteries, and last May he was diagnosed with COVID-19. “Yesterday I spoke to Dr. Guillermo Semenyuk and told him that I was worried because I didn’t like him. That’s why they came to take my swabs. ” Legrand in detail.

The TV diva always appreciates the professionalism and support of her doctor, who is an honorary professor at the Medical Faculty of the University of Buenos Aires and one of the 100 most remarkable personalities in medicine for the Konex Award in 2013. But Mirta Legrand’s doctor doesn’t want to be a celebrity. He cultivates a low profile and has no social networks. “I do not think you should be friends patients through social networks. I believe in good personal relationships, but not through these means and caring for what is called friendship. “, Dr. Semenyuk responded by email with Infobae.

With the increasing use of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tic Tok, among others, health professionals had access to new communication channels with your colleagues, your patients and the community at large. But the dynamics of virtuality are different from face-to-face meetings, and not everyone agrees that male and female doctors should “accept” their patients as “friends” on social media.

An article in the journal of the Argentine Society of Pediatrics recommends that doctors - even students - not accept applications for friendship on social media from current or former patients or their families (Getty Images)
An article in the journal of the Argentine Society of Pediatrics recommends that doctors – even students – not accept applications for friendship on social media from current or former patients or their families (Getty Images)

Recently the specialized magazine Argentine Archives of Pediatrics of the Argentine Society of Pediatrics, published in its latest issue an article questioning that health professionals are making “friends” with patients through social media. The authors are Fernando Lamas, Laura Krinski, Hernan Rowenstein (from Juan Garahan Pediatric Hospital) and Ignacio Maglio, a lawyer specializing in bioethics from the integrated care team at Muniz Hospital in Buenos Aires.

The experts gave various recommendations and regarding the relationship between doctors and patients, they stressed that professionalism must be maintained: “The personal field must be distinguished from the professional. It is recommended that health professionals – even students – do not accept invitations for friendship on social media from current or former patients or their families. ” said the authors. They also suggest that “comments about symptoms or treatments should be general, never for a specific patient, even if he is the one asking us questions on social media.”

Social media – they pointed out – “They require the same ethical behavior as professional relationships with patients and other colleagues in everyday life. Improper use can blur the line between an individual’s social and professional life.

Asked by Infobaeone of the co-authors, Dr. Mallo argues why it is not right for patients to be friends on social media: “We believe that there is an ethical imperative for which male and female doctors do not have to be friends in order to be able to practice healthcare responsibly. If they become friends, it means the denaturalization of the clinical relationship. We must not fall into the opposite extreme of total objectification. He should be looked upon with a compassionate and loving look, but never out of a friendly relationship.

“Doctors do not have to be friends with patients in order to be able to practice healthcare responsibly,” said lawyer Ignacio Malio / Archive

For Maglio, Doctors can use and choose a digital channel to communicate with their patients, by email, WhatsApp, SMS, but they must specify that this is part of medical care. They need to specify what kind of information will be shared (such as the results of clinical trials). He believes that the current moment with new technologies is also an opportunity: “It is necessary to harmonize the medical model of Hippocrates with the digital health system. This will lead to a safe relationship between doctor and patient, quality and respect for human dignity.

However, there are health professionals who already have their patients as friends on social media. In some cases, they admit that they should have reconsidered the decision. “At one point I had a private social media account with photos of my family, but I felt it was inconvenient and closed it. Today I use only social networks with public accounts, in which I give general guidelines for diseases and treatment. If you ask me about a specific patient situation, I suggest you consult a medical professional. But I see that there are colleagues who prefer to expose their personal lives to their patients on social media, “said Gabriel Lapman, a cardiologist and author of the book. Reset: Lifestyle Medicine.

Meanwhile, Dr. Mariana Lestel, who is often consulted on television and is part of the medical staff of the Olavar Oncology Hospital in the province of Buenos Aires, commented to Infobae: “Today, from the most prestigious doctors who write in international scientific journals such as Eric Topol, to lesser-known professionals, everyone has social media,” he said.

“I use social media openly and have different followers. There are people who connect in some way, looking for directions for diseases. Sometimes I help them solve the problem of a bureaucratic procedure, but this is a different moment from the medical consultation, which should follow the same guidelines as when it happens in person. Said Lestel. He mentioned that in some cases he used groups on WhatsApp to inform families while patients were hospitalized. “I think you have to set a limit as a professional. This is the same ethic that must be followed in real life. For example, you can’t go to eat at a patient’s home, “he said.

“I don’t see well when some colleagues use the networks to advertise, promise magical results with plastic surgery or trivialize interventions,” said specialist Jorge Pedro / Archive

Dr Jorge Pedro, former communications director of the Argentine Society for Plastic, Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery (SACPER), says he shares moments from his personal life and professional issues on Instagram where his patients can follow him. Instead, on Facebook, he distinguishes between an account to keep in touch with his loved ones and others as a professional. “I strive to use social media only to inform and lead the community responsibly and ethically. I don’t see well when some colleagues use the networks to advertise, promise magical results with plastic surgery or trivialize interventions. As a specialist in plastic surgery, we can reduce scars and time on the body, but we do not have a magic wand or eraser. The patient must know the limitations of treatment and their possible complications. said Dr. Pedro, who hosts television programs as a health communicator.

The debate on the use of social networks in the medical community is forthcoming, as Mirta Legrand’s doctor wrote in 2019 in an editorial in the journal Medicine Buenos Aires. Dr. Semenyuk suggested setting up discussion forums on the use of platforms such as WhatsApp between doctors and patients, so as to “contribute ideas that will certainly be different, but will contribute to improving overall health by trying to do not lose this important aspect of the double bond, which provides carefully selected examples, metaphors, words and attitudes to give confidence, sometimes just comfort, but always love.

For Semenyuk, caring for these issues would avoid “liquid medicine,” paraphrasing the philosopher Zygmunt Baumann. “Time and artificial intelligence will show,” he wrote. And maybe it will be cool again, prompted by an influencer, to consult a doctor who listens to us as he looks us in the eye and even touches us.


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