An opinion article was recently published in Stat by Daniel Sokol, PhD, who is a London-based bioethicist and lawyer specializing in medical law. His article, entitled “Doctors should use social media with restraint,” discusses the role of doctors on social media. This was very interesting timing for me as I have only very recently embarked on a professional online presence. Mr. Sokal uses Sir William Osler as his example of how a physician should behave. Indeed Sir William Osler is a well-regarded forefather of modern medicine often referred to as the “Father of Modern Medicine.” He was one of the four founding professors of John Hopkins Hospital, and he created the first residency program for specialty training of physicians. He was also the first to bring medical students to the bedside for clinical training. He referred to doctors as “the great army of quiet workers.”
I had many thoughts while reading through the article. My first was how much medicine has changed since the time of Sir William Osler. Physicians are now subject to online reviews and patients who come in after a night spent on-line with “Dr. Google” and have their agenda and unrealistic expectations before they ever see a physician. We have insurance companies and administrators having more and more say over how we practice. Medicine and the practice of medicine would be unrecognizable to Sir William Osler. What may have been appropriate a century ago may not be appropriate now.
I got to thinking about my professional online presence. Are my posts harmful and degrading to my field? Am I perpetuating a lack of confidence in the medical profession? I recalled my reason for starting my professional accounts. It was for the patients. Time and time again, I saw misinformation online. I was dealing with patients who had received misinformation or who were unable to interpret the information they had been reading. I read scathing reviews of good medical institutions over unrealistic expectations and a basic lack of understanding of how the medical system works. It seemed to me there wasn’t enough real information from real doctors for these patients to grab onto and rely on. I wanted to help. I wanted to contribute to real information for patients. I felt I could do more than explain to each patient one at a time. Social media seems the perfect outlet as it is consumed for hours and hours a day by billions of people across the globe. Why not be part of it and create something useful? To me, it seems patients are more and more skeptical of the medical profession because we have been so quiet. Most don’t even understand what our education process is like and the sacrifices we made and continue to make to take care of others. There is strong data to support a doctor is less likely to be sued if they are well liked by their patient. What better way to be well-liked by your patient than to be a human being with them?
Dr. Sokol’s article certainly caused me to reflect on my social media presence. I scrolled through my Instagram account and noted each of my posts. They were all geared at education. Each one offering sound advice and knowledge. Each careful to remain professional. I also note I have received nothing but positive feedback. My followers know they can ask me questions. My followers have told me they find my posts useful, eye-opening, and entertaining. I have also made many connections with other like-minded physicians and have already found a home in SoMeDocs and the Association for Healthcare Social Media.
So far, my experience with social media has been very positive. I feel I can make a difference in the lives of people I have never met. I agree that we should use caution. We should maintain dignity and respect above reality TV and sensationalist news. We are better than that. We are educators and examples to those around us, and we must be aware of that. With great privilege comes great responsibility.
Claudine J. Aguilera is an internal medicine physician.
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