How social media can energize physician advocacy

It happened exactly one week ago today.  I was sleepily putting my phone down to take a shower after a long night of call.  I can’t explain the exact sequence of events, but in the blink of an eye my mobile fell into a full sink of water.  I grabbed it with lightning fast reflexes and blotted it dry with a towel.  As I expected, it was dead.

After an extensive search of the Internet, I eventually settled on the rice method.  I filled a zip lock with rice and submerged the battery and receiver inside, and then sealed it tightly.  Seventy two hours later it emerged just as dysfunctional as before.

So I finally bit the bullet and took it to a mobile repair shop.  The technician explained the multi day process that included exposure to drying agents such as alcohol.  Leaving the store, I realized that it would be millenia before I would be able to use my device again.

I activated a cheap flip phone in the meantime.  Although the battery life is worlds better, it has none of the smart capabilities I am used to having available at the touch of a screen.  That’s right, for the last week I have been almost absent on Facebook and Twitter.  Of course I can use my laptop or iPad, but the feel is just not the same.  The speed is slower.  This is not how I like to do social media.

The absence of social media has left me feeling like something is missing.  Gone is the witty banter and sarcasm of my physician friends.  More importantly, my speed of absorbing new and real time information has slowed drastically.  I feel left out.  It’s like I’ve lost my community.

And in some ways, as physicians, we are enduring a similar crisis.  It’s been quite some time since the hub of physician social life and activism was centered around the doctor’s lounge.   Academic centers are moving away from educational meetings and grand rounds, and starting to focus on productivity.  Independent physicians are feeling disenfranchised from hospital systems and are becoming the worker bees of the system.

We no longer congregate.  We have become silos.

This loss of group identity is increasingly apparent in our organizations.  The great advocacy of the past has fallen prey to a failure to launch.  Confronted with members (and non-members) who are too busy and no longer feel a sense of coherence, the physicians’ interests are largely being neglected on the national stage.

It is no wonder that when it comes to policy making in Washington, doctors have not been asked to the table.

We, in fact, have become one of the entrees.

Could it be that our vehicles of advocacy are stuck in the twentieth century?  I, a lonely blogger, can tweet my ideas to thousands.  But if the content is good, it may be retweeted to hundreds of thousands.

This could be an organic community with grass roots origins.  It is stronger and more cohesive than any lobbying agency that we have used to date.  Most importantly, it is inclusive and moves at warp speed.  Social media could allow us to negotiate in real time and react accordingly.  It could be a hot bed of activism, the doctor’s lounge of the 21st century.

It’s time we pulled our chairs back up to the table with good ideas, fresh optimism, and our newly repaired smart phones in hand.

Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion.

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