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The British Medical Association has issued new guidance to doctors and nurses on the use of social networking sites.
The BMA advised medics not to blur the boundaries by accepting patients, past or present, as friends on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Careless use of such websites could put medics' privacy at risk , damage their professionalism and affect the doctor-patient relationship, it said.
It could also raise ethical issues if, for example, a doctor became party to information about their patients that they had not disclosed during clinical consultations.
The group advised medical staff to politely decline any invites of friendship from past and current patients and explain the reasons why it would be inappropriate to accept.
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"No, for all the reasons in your article – it blurs professional boundaries, could breach patient confidentiality and has potential to lead to complaints. Interestingly at a recent local meeting re Patient Participation Groups it was raised as a possible forum for such groups – I would be interested in the BMA's view on this – again personally I'm not sure that it is such a good idea for all the same reasons" – Pam Fortune, West Yorkshire