Ellen Storm

Writing the White and Purple Coats

Blogging Doctors and a few Thoughts on Professionalism

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Blogs written by doctors seem to be few and far between. Here are two good examples:

http://maxdavie.posterous.com

http://www.margaretmccartney.com/blog

Why aren’t there hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs by doctors? Maybe there are – it’s easier to meander through the ever expanding blogosphere than to search for specific blog subtypes, particularly those written by a particular subcategory of author that may or may not choose to identify him or herself as such – but it doesn’t seem to be the case. What does exist is an article on the use of social media by doctors published in the Lancet in August 2012 (1), the GMC’s draft guidance Doctor’s use of Social Media (2) and an earlier Lancet comment (3).

The general principles seem to be as follows:

  • Do not write about specific individual patients (this should be obvious, but it needs to be said)
  • Do not write anonymously (be open, transparent and accountable – unless you are writing about baking cupcakes)
  • Do not accept friend requests from patients on Facebook (in general – this may not include professional accounts or friends who happen to become your patients, for example)
  • Treat colleagues with respect (treat all people with respect – again, this should be obvious)
  • Provide accurate information (this gets more complicated: there are many controversies in medicine, and social media is a good forum for their discussion, but the boundaries between evidence, opinion and questioning may easily become blurred*)
  • Declare conflicts of interest (getting paid by Nestle, for example)
  • Maintain separate personal and professional profiles (on Facebook/Twitter)

[* The GMC draft guidance states that: “You must be honest and trustworthy in all your communication with patients and colleagues: a) You must give all the relevant information they require, making sure it is what you believe to be accurate. b) You must make clear the limits of your  knowledge. c) You must not give false or misleading information.”]

The GMC draft guidance also states that “serious or persistent failure to follow this guidance will put your registration at risk” and “the accessibility of information on social media means patients, your employer, potential employers, or any other organisation that you have a relationship with may be able to access your personal information”.

So blogging doctors run the risk of being struck off the GMC register. Even if this does not happen, they may never get that consultant job – or any job – for that matter. Also, scary people might find out where they live and send hate mail, or worse. It’s a high price – however unlikely it is to be paid by well intentioned individuals – so it’s probably no wonder that most busy doctors decide simply not to go there at all. Fear, sadly, may well be one of the main reasons for the paucity of blogging doctors. There is another narrative though and it’s one I prefer…

Writing, in it’s many forms, offers us a window into the mind of another person. It allows us to read their thoughts, if only in snapshot. It allows the sharing of ideas, experience and (sometimes) expertise between people. It is, in short, a gift, from one human being to another. Written with this spirit and intention, content is unlikely to cause offence or valid objection, even though not everyone may agree. Dialogue creates understanding, and we need lots more of that in our world today.

So it was very heartening to read Max Davie’s blog referring to the diagnosis and management of ADHD. It highlighted the fact that other professionals have similar concerns and questions about this topic. Moreover, it enabled me  to “download” a little bit of his expertise, despite living at the other end of the country. Good teachers are able to transmit information and ideas like this. Good conversation can do it too, if we are lucky enough to encounter the right person at the right time and get to spend some quality time with them; but in our busy, time-poor society, perhaps more doctors should be putting a little bit of the content of their well-honed-brains in the public sphere: for the benefit of everyone, but particularly those at the other end of the country, or indeed on the other side of the world.

References:

1. Social media guidance, conflicts of interest and health inequalities, Matthew DeCamp, Lancet Vol 380, Issue 9840, p 472-473, 4th August 2012. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(12)61290-2/fulltext. Accessed on October 26th 2012.

2. http://www.gmc-uk.org/Draft_explanatory_guidance___Doctors_use_of_social_media.pdf_48499903.pdf. Accessed on October 26th 2012.

3. Social media: how doctor’s can contribute, Vol 379, Issue 9826, p 1562, April 28 2012. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(12)60658-8/fulltext. Accessed on October 26th 2012.

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