New Singapore Medical Council guidelines: Doctors shouldn't start social media relationships with patients

A man is silhouetted against a video screen with a Facebook logo.
A man is silhouetted against a video screen with a Facebook logo.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Medical professionals should not start relationships with their patients on social media sites because patients may be put in a position where they feel pressurised or obliged to engage with the practitioners.

Doctors are also strongly advised against engaging patients who contact them on social media.

These are some of the new guidelines issued by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) in its updated 2016 code and guidelines on medical ethics. The last time the code and guidelines were revised was more than 10 years ago in 2002.

The revisions to the Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines were made "to better address and to enable practitioners to navigate the ethical issues encountered in modern medical practice", said the SMC in a statement on Wednesday (Sept 14).

This is because medical practice here has become more complex, with advanced technology, innovative communication means, new modes of treatment, a wide range of organisational and business models in medicine, as well as changing expectations of the community.

The 2016 Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines are accompanied by the SMC Handbook on Medical Ethics, which contains additional material on the code and guidelines. The handbook also explains their applications and provides advice on the best practices.

The principles considered in reviewing and approving the revised code and guidelines include:

- Their relevance to modern medical practice.

- Adapting to the complexities and variations of medical practice.

- Protecting patients' best interests while being fair to doctors.

- Maintaining the values important to society and to the medical profession.

- Regulating ethical behaviour rather than imposing blanket prohibitions.

- Upholding the principle of professional self-regulation.

The new code and guidelines were reviewed and approved by the SMC and a working committee. The committee was appointed in September 2010 and comprised council members, senior doctors and an ethicist.

The updated code and guidelines will come into effect on Jan 1 next year (2017). Until then, the 2002 version will remain in force.