Social media fears doctors face

It took me most of 2010 to weight up the pros and cons of starting a blog.

I already have a busy, well-established rheumatology practice and our clinic has grown steadily through word-of-mouth. There’s also always enough jobs on the to-do list without adding another regular task. Is it worth the risk? What is the risk?

In my first blog, I’ve tried to explain why I ended up agreeing to do this. I now want to tell you about the 4 major fears I had to face and continue to face, as I sit at my laptop, typing these words.

Fear 1: Exposing myself to the public

I like to keep a reasonably low profile. There were no photos of me (that I’m aware of!) circulating on the internet for the general public, until now. I’ve been a hard worker and an achiever, rather than someone who has rushed to be a public thought leader.

Fear 2: What if people don’t find what I write interesting or useful?

My ego would be bruised.

Fear 3: What if someone makes negative comments?

I will have little control over what people say about my posts or about me. What if a disgruntled patient decided to take it out on me publicly? I hope this never happens but I suppose I could defend myself if the criticism was unfair, or actually apologise and make amends.

This fear could also provide me even greater incentive to provide exceptional care so that the probability of a disgruntled patient becomes exceedingly low.

Fear 4: What would my medical colleagues think?

The profession of medicine is in general, conservative. Australian Rheumatologists, in a sweeping generalization, would not be considered the most progressive or the most receptive to change.

I suspect that our blog, will raise at least a few eyebrows, amongst the “establishment”.

Prior to starting the blog, I subscribed to other blogs to see what others do. I came across Dr Bryan Vartabedian, who writes about the convergence of social media and medicine in 33 Charts.

Last night, I steeled myself and wrote my very first comment to a blog. I commented on his blog about physician online reputation management, expressing part of the fear I have just written about. To my surprise, I featured, in his next blog! This was social media in action, and it was quite gratifying.

I’m a newbie to this stuff. Many of you reading now are in the same boat. My first week of blogging has been surprisingly enjoyable.

Some of you reading are doctors or allied health professionals. What are your own concerns about using social media? You may find it quite liberating.

Some of you reading are patients. Do you think doctors, and other allied health professionals should be using a blog, Twitter or Facebook to connect with you? And what would be the benefit to you, if any. Please share this with us.

Irwin Lim is a rheumatologist in Australia who blogs at BJC Health Connected Care.

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  • http://rlbatesmd.blogspot.com rlbates

    Welcome to the medical blogging community

  • http://www.ibera.ca Felicia

    Welcome! I think your fears are realized by so many in the medical community and I applaud you for seeing past them to see the good you can do for the medical community as a whole and the patients you serve. I look forward to hearing more from you and your colleagues.

  • http://www.thecitizendoc.com thecitizendoc

    I recently faced the same kind of decision on whether or not to continue blogging, which I had taken a bit of a break from due to board exams and residency interviews. I’m still a med student myself, but the reason I’m choosing to continue blogging and to build it into what I do as a health professional is (1) I believe it’s critical these days to help put out health information to our communities in the face of all the viral misinformation that’s out there, and (2) scientists and health professionals need to engage social media to get our netizens involved – and enthusiastic! – about health. I posted a short blog about it here: http://www.thecitizendoc.com/journal/2011/1/1/voices-for-health-we-need-to-be-heard-in-2011.html. Glad you decided to go for it and beat of luck to you.

  • http://www.healthybalancedlife.com Ann Becker-Schutte

    Thank you for sharing. I began experimenting with a blog last spring, but only became serious about social media use in the past month. I’ve made my first comments this week, and had my first blog post re-tweeted. Your fears were spot on–I’m still struggling with those. I’ll be bookmarking this for the next time I feel frozen by my own fears.

  • http://www.snapinmedia.com Social Media

    I agree that there is definitely room for people to talk about other people in their social networks in not so nice ways, however they are talking. Positive and negative feedback is real, and actually valued. Getting only positive feedback in social is useless and unrealistic. I’m glad docs are getting into social, but the dishonest, unethical docs simply won’t last. People don’t forget, and people talk.

  • http://beyondbreastcancer.wordpress.com/ Marie Ennis O’Connor

    Well done on joining the blogosphere Irwin – we certainly need more doctors online. Your expertise and experience are needed more than ever to cut through the confusing chatter and misinformation which abounds online.

  • http://bjcconnectedcare.com/ Irwin Lim

    Thanks for the comments. I’m into my 3rd week of blogging and it actually does get easier. Topics to write about just seem to become obvious. I then find that as I try to formulate my thoughts and words for a non-medical audience, I end up reflecting a lot about my own medical practices and biases. The fears I wrote about are becoming much less of a worry.

  • http://www.nationalhealers.com Emma Anderson

    Thank you for writing this. I think it is wonderful that you have shared this information. To all those blogging it is wonderful to read your different views and professional experiences. Your professional blogging helps answer questions to so many with thier practice, new technology, patients and medicine. You are leaders in your field by stepping out and sharing and helping. Congrats!

  • http://bizsavvytherapist.com Susan Giurleo

    Congrats on taking the leap and starting your blog! It takes courage to do something “the establishment” doesn’t understand. If you always come to your writing from a stance of helping others to live healthier lives, you’ll never go wrong.
    And, yes, people can disagree, but isn’t that what happens in every relationship – online and off? People are people and respectful discourse can take place among us, no matter what the format.

  • http://obesefromtheheart.com Sara Stein MD

    It’s profoundly rewarding to use social media to reach a larger patient base in some meaningful way, even without the traditional doctor-patient relationship. I use Facebook and Twitter heavily and a blog occasionally, and the feedback I get from addressing an issue is overwhelmingly positive.
    Enjoy!
    Sara

  • http://www.twitter.com/fnyc Francesca Ambrosini

    Congratulations Doctor on a great straightforward down to earth blog post. In reply to your asking if Physicians should directly communicate with Patients online in public blog permanently documented setting, I say no. Physicians have enough paper work to keep up with. The risk of misinterpretations outweighs any benefits. I personally, as a Patient, prefer to discuss findings and if necessary follow-up treatment privately. I like to look at my Doctor straight in face and see reactions, hesitation, etc. I do not want to be spared any details. Explain it to me in best lay terms possible in person and tell me what needs to be or not need to be done next. I see no benefit for me as a Patient sharing my questions with general public about my own health care.

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