Updated 21 September 2015

Why doctors and patients should not connect on Facebook

Marli Smit of the South African Medical Association warns against doctors and patients using social media to get or give help in diagnosing diseases and health problems.


Doctors and patients shouldn't be friends on Facebook or other social media, Marli Smit, legal advisor of the South African Medical Association (SAMA) said in Johannesburg at the body's yearly conference.

She said that it's a grey area because we currently don't have legislation that regulate doctors' actions on social media.

In 2014 Claire Julsing-Strydom, president of the Association for Diatetics in South Africa (Adsa), laid a complaint with the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) as a matter of public interest after a tweet from Prof Noakes advising a mother to wean her baby off milk by following a Banting or low carbohydrate high fat (LCHF) diet.

The case was postponed until November.

Smit said that, although Noakes' use of social media wasn't wrong, it is important that doctors conduct physical examinations of all patients before they diagnose or give advice.

Read: Psychiatrists to answer medication queries online

Patients should also know that social media it not the appropriate platform to receive medical advice, primarily because of confidentiality issues.

Doctors should also not personally identify patients on social media, she said.

There is the risk that either side (either the patient or the doctor) could use information posted on social media in court cases if the information is untrue or infringes on either party's human rights.

She said where social media could help is in distributing information about new advances in medical technology.

Read more:

Tim Noakes hearing: Claire-Julsing Strydom says we need clarity

Motsoaledi will make the HPCSA findings public

Does Facebook encourage dangerous diets?


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