A pediatrician was bullied by his fellow physicians on Twitter


#Tweetiatrician is a common hashtag used by pediatricians as a way I assumed to find advocates for children’s issues.

Recently, I used this hashtag to start a new Twitter account. I sought educated dialogue on Medicaid, health care reform, vaccination, and other pediatric topics.

I am a pediatric emergency medicine physician and consider myself a strong advocate for children and seldom agree with any political party. My advocacy work in many forms is not dissimilar to thousands of pediatricians. Clinically, I see the lack of access due to social issues, poor insurance reimbursement, ED overuse, and the challenge as we try to influence populations to care for themselves by simply brushing teeth, taking asthma medicine and stopping smoking.

My middle age does lend me to seek more perspective and not just prove myself right like my younger self.  I am frustrated by having to switch channels or read two articles to gain balance perspectives.  I look at politics like medicine and try to find evidence support with a focus on solutions.  Frankly, I thought all tweetiatricians would act the same.

I was wrong. I began to follow about 100 tweetiatricians.  I saw many posts rightfully suggesting Medicaid is under attack.  My tweet suggested that Medicaid, though needed, is woefully inadequate. Hospitals and pediatricians can’t make ends meet without a balanced ratio of commercial to Medicaid patients.  I worry more insurance has contributed to the rising health expenditures.  I thought good points for discussion.

Not so fast: my tweets were rebuked with political posts about rising insurance coverage and suggestions of me being anti-kids by not advocating for Medicaid.  My replies intended to foster dialogue went unanswered.

Next, I examined the amazing number of polarized political tweets and re-tweets of tweetiatricians based on opinion and skewed facts.  I really stepped in the Twitter pothole when one of these tweetiatricians mentioned giving a lecture on media advocacy at an upcoming meeting.   I asked if the presentation would offer more balance?  You know, perhaps recognize that there are two sides to every opinion, a need to focus on issues and solutions based on evidence instead of politics.

BOOM. My Twitter account exploded as tweetiatricians came on attack with vitriol. I was asked to argue a side rather than suggesting two sides and seeking truth.  Dialogue suggestions were met with highly liked and re-tweeted fire such as being a “MGMA hat wearing fool.” Troll, gadfly and being trite were insults lobbed at me. I suggested hate knows no political party. Ridicule followed and I was being told my opinion didn’t matter based on having so few followers.   My account was blocked, replies ignored and my LinkedIn profile examined.  I removed my name from my account, changed my Twitter handle, and backed away.

As the AAP defines it:  Bullying includes threats, spreading rumors, physical or verbal attacks, and intentional exclusion or marginalization.

My sadness is great for these tweetiatricians I randomly followed.   I am hopeful they don’t represent all. Social media is clearly dangerous and fosters single mindedness.  Pediatricians should be above this behavior and partisan polarization.  I am no longer a #tweetiatrician and perhaps let the bullies win.  I hope that others will recognize the need to see any and all sides.   Kids have issues, and partisan politics and bullying is not the way to solve them.   It’s time for a new mindset and a new hashtag that unites and not divides.

Mick Connors is a pediatric emergency physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com


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