The Medical Defence Union, a legal body for British doctors, said communicating via sites such as Facebook may be a breach of ethical responsibilities.
The organisation is advising doctors to refrain from responding to patient’s messages and to change their privacy settings. Social networks are blurring the divide between doctors and patients, it says, placing either in potentially vulnerable situations.
The organization says flirting on social networking sites poses ethical problems for doctors because they have a unique position of trust in society.
“The pitfalls posed to doctors using social networking sites by inadvertently breaching confidentiality or posting unprofessional content, such as photos, have been well documented,” MDU medico-legal adviser Dr. Emma Cuzner said.
But she said doctors may be less prepared for patients using sites like Facebook to ask them out on a date.
“Some doctors have told the MDU they feel it would be rude not to reply, if only to politely refuse, but given that this is not a professional route of communication, any correspondence of this sort would clearly stray outside the doctor/patient relationship.”