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Journey of a DPT Student

My PT Patient Just Friended Me

Published November 14, 2011 4:23 PM by Lauren Rosso

Today at clinical, I evaluated a 17-year-old kid from a local high school who is having some problems with shin splints. Considering my crash-and-burn experience during last week's eval, I was so excited for things to be looking up. I went through the exam, picked out some useful exercises, and sent him on his way with a HEP and hopes that I would get to follow up with him next week. To my surprise, I had a Facebook friend request from him 45 minutes later.

What's funniest to me is that I know I didn't tell him my last name. It wouldn't have taken a detective to glance down at my name tag and figure it out, but either way it was unexpected. I guess I'm just wondering how everyone out there deals with this sort of thing? I'm obviously not going to accept his cyber friendship, considering this exact situation was addressed ad nauseum at our introductory clinical meeting. I'm more interested in hearing what you tell a patient without sounding like a complete scrooge.

Social media can be such a useful tool, but at other times it's a bit overwhelming. I double-checked my privacy settings after this all happened - not because I feel like I have anything shameful to hide, but because I don't really want any crossover between my "work" life and personal life. Maybe that's a bit extreme, but I feel more comfortable when the two are separated, particularly as a student.


In a couple of months I will be graduating from my DPT program.  I have always tried to compartmentalize different aspects of my life and I feel that this approach has been successful for me, but  this situation presented itself to me on my most recent clinical.

One of my patients had a procedure that I was familiar with due to my personal experiences, so we connected on this level.  I maintained my professional demeanor during all treatments, but from many of his responses he, at least in part, viewed me as a friend.  At the end of my rotation he wanted to be friends and stay connected over social media.  Although he seemed rejected at my response, I informed him that I did not think that this would be appropriate due to our interaction as therapist and patient.

After reading earlier responses I think that having a professional account would be the most appropriate method to handle this situation in the future.  This approach would allow me to keep up with patient's progress and would also permit there to be an open channel that would allow patients to return for future episodes of treatment.

Bret March 21, 2012 10:25 AM

I am a first year DPT student currently but I faced a similar issue while volunteering at a PT clinic during my undergraduate education.  I had been assisting with a patient that was close to my age in the clinic and after a few sessions he had sent me a friend request on facebook.  I understood the importance of separating my social life with my professional life but I also struggled with how to deal with the situation so the patient was not offended.  I discussed the situation with the PT that I had been working with and he suggested that I be upfront with the patient and tell him the truth to avoid any misunderstandings.  It is important to connect with your patients and develop a trusting relationship but you have to be careful that there is a clear boundary and that your social life does not become intertwined with your work life.

Caitlin, PT - Student February 2, 2012 2:36 PM
Greenville NC

I am a first year PT student, and I will be going on my first clinical in March.  Your post about social media was very thought-provoking to me as I prepare to work with patients for the first time.  I know that schools in my area have created rules about interactions between teachers and students over social media, email, texting, etc (generally these rules say they are not allowed to have any contact).  Professionally, we must exercise caution as well, and it seems inappropriate to friend someone on facebook.  However, as social media is becoming so much more pervasive in our society, perhaps this will need to be re-evaluated.  Will it become unrealistic to block any contact with patients via social media?  Does it come across the wrong way to patients, especially those in the younger generation who are accustomed to being connected to everything?  Thanks for your post!

Courtney February 2, 2012 1:20 PM

I find this to be a very interesting topic because of the relatively "new" emergence of social media. As a physical therapy student, I can understand not wanting to decline a request from a patient simply because you do not want to rub them the wrong way. Obviously, you cannot accept the friend request and the professional thing to do is to notify them of why you are unable to do so, as you stated. This is certainly a new problem that physical therapists have not had to face (at least to this extent) in the past. I feel confident that as social media continues to grow, so will a both a knowledge and understanding of this "concept" between not only physical therapists, but also the patients and clients who are sending these requests.

Anthony January 14, 2012 11:19 AM

I had never considered creating a "professional" account.  I actually think that's a great idea.  I also agree that social media can be a great way to keep patients updated on what they should be doing, and it's also a great way for them to stay in touch with us.  That's exciting that you are using it in your clinic!  

Lauren Rosso November 18, 2011 9:28 PM

I don't have a facebook account and don't want one.  It would never have occurred to me that a patient could friend me electronically.  I doubt anyone has truly considered the implications for healthcare.

Toni Patt November 16, 2011 7:23 PM

I have a personal email account and a professional email account and started a Facebook account with each one.  That way, my personal and professional lives stay separated.  I use my professional FB account to share PT and health-related news with my friends and my profile doesn't include personal information like my city, religion, political views, etc.  It's nice because I work in pediatrics and I LOVE getting updates on how the kids I work or worked with are doing, but our communications stay on a strictly therapist/client level.

Tana November 16, 2011 10:23 AM

I think that social media and more importantly, telehealth is going to be a part of medice going into the future, even physical therapy.  With that said, (depending on the media provider) I feel that if you can create a professional persona digitally, that is appropriate for patients, then that is an avenue to further develope the PT/patient relationship.  With facebook you have to designate a specific list for patients that disallows them from all of the personal info, pics, etc that would be inappropriate for them to view.  A professional twitter identity that is separate from a personal one is a simple way to filter patient groups from personal groups.  We also us a facebook page for our clinic that allows patients to indirectly contact us via digital medial.  It is also a great forum to spread usful info to our community.

Erik Waterland, DPT November 15, 2011 4:14 PM

well, I'm a bit more paranoid about this kind of thing than many people, but I make myself unsearchable on Facebook. I've also changed my screen name to not my actual last name (my middle name).

If, somehow, a student manages to find me, I message that student back and explain that professional rules prohibit me from being social media friends with that student. Nobody takes it personally.

My twitter account I keep public, and I try to be aware of that when I post things on there.

Katy Lev November 14, 2011 5:31 PM

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