How do pharmacists navigate social media?

Community pharmacists are very aware of blurring the boundaries of professional and personal through social media, and mostly use it to correct misleading health information

Research led by the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney has looked into the way community pharmacists use social media platforms to communicate with patients.

In-depth interviews conducted with 31 practising pharmacists from nine different countries found none working in community pharmacy reported delivering individualised services to consumers via social media.

Patient safety was of “paramount importance” and could be compromised through social media activities, participants reported, while patient confidentiality and privacy in the online environment were also singled out as a major concern.

Many participants worked in pharmacies that hosted a Facebook page in order to engage with the local community. This involved promoting the pharmacy’s products and services, and posting relevant public health news.

However no participant ‘friended’ consumers on Facebook as it was perceived to blur the boundary between professional and personal relationships, and presented privacy concerns for the pharmacist.

“I get friend requests from customers, I tend to not respond to those … I would only accept that if I were friends with them for other reasons, or if they were a friend of a friend,” said one pharmacist.

“The presence of consumers in their contact list was a sign of work invading their personal time,” say the authors.

“[Also], pharmacists were concerned about their privacy and reputation.”

The researchers found pharmacists occasionally provided professional advice to friends and followers on social media, and commonly corrected misleading health information being spread online – particularly on vaccination.

“Participants’ active role in addressing this issue has shown that pharmacists are committed to voluntarily acting professionally outside work hours and settings,” say the authors.

“However practitioners should be made aware that these social media activities might be regarded as professional ones and consequently incur responsibilities and liabilities.”

Some pharmacists also reported using YouTube to support their patient counselling activities, for example, showing a patient a helpful video on how to use an asthma inhaler.

But most preferred the traditional one-on-one, face-to-face interactions with patients, with telephone the next preferred mode of communication.

Future ongoing research is needed to better support pharmacists for future use of social media as a tool for health service delivery, the authors argue.

“Pharmacists as medicines experts are well-equipped to contribute to improvements in social media medicines-related information, learn from consumers’ online activities, and design new ways of delivering care to communities and individuals.”

Int J Clin Pharm 2017; online 15 March 2017

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