Doctors have been advised not to connect with their patients on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has made the recommendation because it fears that in befriending their patients doctors may risk breaching confidentiality.
It advises medical staff and students to decline friend and follow requests by patients current or past in order to maintain the clear boundaries needed in the doctor-patient relationship.
The BMA guidance, which was published earlier this month, also warns medical professionals against posting “informal, personal or derogatory comments” about their patients on social media sites.
The advice follows a series of mistakes that have got doctors into trouble on Facebook.
According to Tony Calland, chairman of the BMA’s medical ethics committee, most doctors already refuse to accept Facebook friend requests from patients, although a small percentage would think about befriending them.
He told the Guardian: “Accepting Facebook friends presents doctors with difficult ethical issues. For example, doctors could become aware of information about their patients that has not been disclosed as part of a clinical consultation.
“It would also be wholly inappropriate for doctors to disclose information about their patients online.”
The Nursing and Midwifery Council also published similar guidelines this week, asking nurses and midwifes to refrain from posting photos of patients, discussing work and publishing sensitive information onto their social networks as well as not befriending their patients.