I will be the first to admit my poll is not of the highest scientific standard. It is mere snapshot of opinions from slightly more than a handful of people. I don’t know if most who responded are doctors or not (or any other demographic for that matter as the poll was completely anonymous). It is also possible that there is a huge bias as I am a supporter of the right to use social media anonymously and I suspect my followers (or at least the ones most likely to visit my blog) are like minded. Then again, I could be wrong.
I am also no PhD in designing polls. I appreciate there is a whole science to how you ask the question, the order you list the responses, and even the font. Maybe one day I’ll have funding to do the study with a more rigorous scientific methodology. I also appreciate some people would have preferred slightly different options (or more options) to chose from. All I can say, is “Live and learn.” I will try to over come these deficiencies the next time I poll people.
The voting is a clean as possible – the software is supposed to prevent stuffing the ballot box by limiting voting to one per IP address (no, I didn’t see the IP addresses and even if I did, I would have no idea what that mean, I’m really a computer neophyte).
So the results are: a staggering 98 people voted (I really thought more would vote, but it’s better than a kick in the pants) and more than 78% felt it was “acceptable for medical professionals to blog and tweet anonymously.”
Yes, anonymous sources should be given far less weight if the content is medical. Source verification is the #1 rule in assessing the validity of health information on-line. However, IMO the way our patients can get better content is not by silencing the anonymous, but by instructing how to better use the Internet for medical information.
Might anonymous sources cross the HIPAA line more often? This past week I saw more patient information in named threads than in the much talked about “priapism” tweet made by the anonymous anesthesiologist who was drummed out of social media. There was a post about a 5 week old in daycare admitted with pertussis and a post about 30 year old pregnant women with pertussis just to name a couple (a lot of pertussis lately folks get vaccinated). Do these practitioners get permission to make these posts and, just as important, before anyone retweets them do they ask if this consent was obtained? I don’t think these posts crossed the line, but if they have the same amount of content as the priapism tweet, why the free pass?
Well, having followed the outing of the anonymous anesthesiologist blogger closely, as HIPAA was never violated and clearly many other doctors on twitter mention content with the exact same amount of information, it must have all come down to taste. The way the information was displayed must have been offensive to at least one blogger. Apparently there was sexual innuendo. However, it wasn’t offensive to everyone.
So who decides about taste? Are taste and professionalism what they was 30 years ago when these standards were decreed by the same people who thought nothing about asking female medical students to sign a contract stating they would not get pregnant in medical school? Is professionalism wearing a tie? Is it saying, “Yes, sir?” Is it knowing the literature backwards and forwards? Or is professionalism more nuanced than that. Is it more about how you care for your patients? How you stay up at night searching Pub Med? How you cry with your patient who has just lost a child?
In times gone by doctors never, ever shared anything personal with their patients. It’s still frowned upon by many, but I can tell you I have helped more women in despair over the loss of their child by sharing my own story. Is that unprofessional or is it caring?
The Internet, and especially social media, is changing every thing. Not just medicine but how we interact. I don’t think we can apply ancient standards of professionalism to today’s world. Using social media in an anonymous fashion is just one example of how we need to think outside of the box.