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GPs warned of Facebook stalkers

By Ian Quinn

GPs have been warned of the dangers of being stalked by their patients on social networking sites such as Facebook.

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) today said it has received a string of reports of doctors receiving amorous approaches online and warned that GPs who respond could end up in hot water - rather than hot under the collar.

Responding to patients could be viewed as overstepping the professional boundary of the doctor/patient relationship, it says.

In one case, a female GP was asked out for a drink by a patient as she left her surgery. When she declined, the patient started pestering the doctor via Facebook and sent her a bunch of lilies, which he had determined were her favourite flowers from her publicly accessible Facebook page.

The MDU says it helped the GP nip the patient's advances in the bud, and also suggested she considered employing some of the security and privacy settings on the site.

Dr Emma Cuzner, MDU medico-legal adviser, whose article on the hidden dangers of social networking appears in the latest edition of the MDU Journal said: ‘The pitfalls posed to doctors using social networking sites by inadvertently breaching confidentiality or posting unprofessional content, such as photos, have been well documented. But 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.'

‘Doctors could face a GMC investigation if they are accused of overstepping the boundary. They have a duty to maintain the public trust in the profession at all times, in their professional and private lives and not only when at their place of work.'

Dr Emma Cuzner, MDU medico-legal adviser

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