Way back in 2009, doctors were concerned about sending email messages to their clients. They felt that the messages would become part of the patient’s record, and perhaps they’d miss some vital clue in the written word and leave themselves open to lawsuits as a result. An article on CNN.com written at the time suggests that 55 percent of adults wanted to talk with their doctors via email, and doctors weren’t really sure how to handle the demand.

My, how times have changed.

Now, patients might expect to hold Facebook friendships with their doctors, allowing them around-the-clock access to their medical opinions, as well as the personal details of the people they entrust with their care. According to research quoted by the Wall Street Journal, some 35 percent of doctors have received a Facebook friend request from a patient or a patient’s family member. Of those who had received requests, 58 percent rejected the invitation. But those who did agree to these friendships could be opening themselves up to reputation disasters.

Facebook pages are designed to be personal, allowing people to share information about things that are important to them. It’s a media that encourages transparency and sharing, and sometimes, those details could be hard for outsiders to deal with. For example, a study conducted by the University of Florida found that more than half of medical students with Facebook pages included information about their personal relationships, political opinions and/or sexual orientation. While most of this information could be considered benign and just part of the doctor’s personal life, some of it could be offensive to patients, who might not know their doctor on a personal level. A little comment taken the wrong way could explode, and the damage could be hard to measure.

Some doctors are finding this out the hard way, facing pushback on comments they’ve made from clients they don’t know on a personal level. Other doctors are doing things with clients online that they might never consider doing in real life. The Seattle Times reports, for example, that some medical staff members have posted insulting or demeaning comments about patients on their pages, and others have made inappropriate friend requests and have offended their clients. Complaints due to actions like this are quite serious, and doctors could face sanctions from the state medical board for wrongdoing.

Many doctors are small business owners, so it makes sense that they would use social media sites to build up their businesses and reach out to consumers. In the connected world, this is the way people network and the way that companies succeed. But doctors who participate in social media on a social level, blurring the lines between business and pleasure, could be doing their reputations more harm than good. Cleaning up the mess can be difficult, but reputation management companies can help. At InternetReputation.com, for example, we can look through your social media profile and remove any information that might cause trouble down the line. We can also help to clean up your personal “friend list” and remove any people who might cause you harm, and help you to set up a business profile that could help you to expand your brand.