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Is Therapy Via Twitter Advisable – Or Even Legal?

Along with greatly increased knowledge and productivity, our digital age brings with it concerns and questions aplenty surrounding privacy.

One related hot topic area is therapy. Specifically, is social media an appropriate arena for therapy to take place?

Let’s dive into this a little bit.

First off, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 governs the privacy of an individual’s health information and the way health care providers collect, maintain, use and disclose that protected info.

So, obviously, receiving personal medical advice in a public domain counteracts the protection of patient rights that HIPAA has put into place.

But HIPAA, as it relates to social media, is a little bit murky. As with other areas – the legal system, for example – it’s also sort of a battle ground area for regulators right now.

So what is kosher engagement on Twitter between you and your psychiatrist? You are both technically allowed to follow each other. But as soon the transmission of information occurs, it could be construed as therapy-related.

From the doctor’s perspective, it would be wise to have an explicit conversation with each patient about any interactions that may take place on Twitter. There are even entire courses designed around Digital and Social Media Ethics for Therapists.

For example, if a doctor wants to follow their patient on Twitter in order to monitor their mood, that should be communicated.

And indeed, the amount of time that people spend on online and the quantity of information they disclose could be a data goldmine for doctors charged with evaluating someone’s psyche. And social media tools can provide plenty of positive benefits for clinicians.

At the same time, anything your therapist tweets might, if you follow them, have an impact on your relationship. In traditional therapy, everything occurs in a safe, enclosed environment where the patient is the focus of the conversation. But on social media, the therapist has a voice too, unrelated to ideas and emotions that the patient has.

What if, for example, your therapist tweeted something disparaging about President Obama, but you are a staunch Democrat? Or what if your doctor tweeted a snarky comment about a TV show that you happen to love? Anything, however small, might cause you to perceive the doctor in a new light, which is not conducive to productive treatment.

We’re not even talking about having your doctor tweet your prescriptions to CVS – which would be absurd. Even in the arena of everyday discourse about politics and TV shows, there is risk involved.

What’s your opinion about following your therapist on Twitter, or having them follow you? Completely inappropriate? Part and parcel of a modern information age? Share your thoughts in the comments.

(Image from Shutterstock)

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