Niro Kumar: Doctors and dating apps

Shift patterns and long hours have detrimental effects on doctors’ social and romantic lives. While dating other medics solves this conundrum for some, many junior (and senior) doctors still prefer dating outside the profession.

Around the world 91 million people use dating apps and websites. This provides a network of non-medics for social interaction and can be very time efficient, however, is this safe for individual doctors working in a public facing profession where perception plays an integral role in the trust placed upon them?

Virtually all dating apps work on geo-location using smartphone GPS and, as such, strangers are given our locations in real time. The possibility of patients and work colleagues coming across photos and personal information that we would normally keep separate is also very real.

Unknowingly, doctor-patient relationships can easily form, and fake profiles undoubtedly lead some doctors to reveal personal information to untrustworthy sources.

Referring back to maintaining professional boundaries guidance, the GMC identifies that, “Social media creates risks, particularly where social and professional boundaries become unclear.”

In regards to your identity on social media the GMC Good Practice Guidance has this to say: “If you identify yourself as a doctor in publicly accessible social media, you should also identify yourself by name. Any material written by authors who represent themselves as doctors is likely to be taken on trust and may reasonably be taken to represent the views of the profession more widely.”

This remains inadequate and outdated in the new space created by dating apps.

A blanket ban on apps would likely be more detrimental than beneficial to the profession, especially in a time where we face challenges in recruitment. However, clearer guidance and support is necessary specifically for this new generation of apps. The risks of dating apps and social media are true for the general public as they are for doctor.

The challenge is to provide guidance that can be adhered to, but does not infringe on the rights of individual doctors.

Competing interests: I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and have no relevant interests to declare.

Niro Kumar is a clinical research fellow at the University of Cambridge.