Doctors should stay clear of social media!?

Doctors should stay clear of social media!?

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By Dr Irwin Lim, Rheumatologist

Less than 2 weeks ago, I was asked to talk to the next generation of Australian rheumatologists about how social media may be relevant to their clinical practice. A strong concern for these doctors was that they would expose themselves to the ire of disgruntled patients, and that they may need to be so careful of what they say to avoid offending others that it would be easier to just avoid the interaction. These were worries I had myself but I still feel and therefore, argued that as physicians, we do have a responsibility to have an online presence to provide our perspective to online health discussions.

Harsh reality was experienced this week.

My colleague and friend, Roberto Russo, who I had talked into contributing a blog post, wrote about a disease called lupus. To my mind, this was quite a benign post and the major point it made was that this disease had broad clinical manifestations and that, at times, patients may present on the basis of their joint symptoms. A relatively common presentation to a rheumatologist. He made the point that joint symptoms could sometimes be part of a systemic disorder.

What followed was very unexpected. Multiple tweets and then comments on the post by lupus activists and lupus patients suffering with more severe disease. These were in many cases, angry and judgemental, and in some cases, over-the-top. It seemed that a word used, "hysteria", touched a raw nerve, leading to emotional reply. Unfortunately, I think the context of that word and the rest of the words in the post were given less consideration.

Please read the post followed by the comments to judge for yourself.

I have read and re-read these many times. It makes me a little angry, confused and very sad.

A little anger because those with loud online voices seem happy to shout out softer voices. Confused because some commentators seem to be able to read so much more than I from the same words. Sad because the post has so obviously upset some people, including the author.

I often hear calls from patient advocates that we need more doctors to contribute to the online conversation. It is sad that one of the reasons preventing doctors from doing so is being demonstrated.

Should doctors stay clear of social media?

Many will. And this is a shame.

The advantage of social media is that it allows conversation.

All comments were accepted to the piece. As curator of this blog, I welcome criticism and comment but prefer it to be non-defamatory and less inflammatory.

Surely, we can accept different perspectives than our own. Let's all contribute constructively to the conversation.

Dr Irwin Lim is a rheumatologist and a director of BJC Health. You should follow him on twitter here.
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