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NHS Direct to offer medical advice via Facebook

NHS Direct has revealed that it is aiming to offer confidential medical advice to patients via the social networking site Facebook.

The proposals were revealed at the NHS Direct annual general meeting yesterday, with Alan Bentall, the chief information officer at NHS Direct, saying that offering patient confidential advice via Facebook could be an option for the future.

He said: ‘We may decide that we want to offer an entry to our services via the social media channel and under those circumstances, similar to the way that we have with our use of third party websites for access to our health and symptom checkers, we would make sure that we held patient information and any advice given in a confidential way, under appropriately signed off terms and conditions.'

The idea was also championed by Joanna Shaw, chair of NHS Direct, but the protection of confidential information was also reiterated.

‘I hope that we are quite innovative and open in the way that we use various new media channels available, but we would never compromise patient confidentiality in the way that we use it.'

Currently, if a patient discusses their personal health they are directed to an official NHS Direct symptom service, such as the online symptom checker of telephone services.

Dr Peter Windross, a GP in Wiltshire and a prominent medical blogger, said: ‘It definitely has a place in the future of modern medicine for some people, if not already. I believe we owe it to our patients to explore all these potential situations and work with them as giving timely accurate information in an appropriate manner is what we're all striving for and this may be a way to achieve a small facet of this big integrated picture.'

An NHS Direct spokesperson said: 'NHS Direct does not provide clinical assessments via social media. If a patient discusses their personal health on Facebook or Twitter they are immediately directed to our 0845 46 47 telephone service or our online health and symptom checkers. We would never use public areas, such as someone's ‘wall' on Facebook, to carry out assessments or discuss personal details.'

'Our online health and symptom checkers are currently available through a number of trusted websites, via a syndication partnership. In these cases the tools sit on the third-party website but remain hosted by NHS Direct, and are subject to the same robust security settings that apply to our own website.  We have had early discussions to explore if it would be possible to enter such a partnership with Facebook, but it has not been taken forward at this stage.'

 

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