The General Medical Council is on the case! In a very 21st century directive to its members it advises:
The standards expected of doctors do not change because they are communicating through social media rather than face to face or through other traditional media. However, social media does raise new circumstances to which the established principles apply.
In days gone by a local doctor would have been part of a community and be well known by his patients. In its way social media facilitates this kind of familiarity in our less personal modern environment. Those medical professionals who resist using social media to reveal more of themselves to their community of patients, site the necessity for keeping a professional distance. Then there are the issues surrounding confidentiality, can this really be maintained in a social media setting? How much of a responsibility do doctors have to maintain privacy for a patient intent on disseminating their details on social networks? Where decision-making on treatment is no longer the province of the treating physician but rather a shared decision between the patient and his or her doctor, can social media help towards a further understanding and de-mystification of procedures and diagnoses? With more than half the UK population now using Facebook and a trend towards new sign ups in the 50 plus age group, this is a perfect platform surely for medical and other socially significant information to be circulated.
In the Untied States they have, of course, got all manner of doctors and healthcare professionals on Twitter with Facebook pages and more information being circulated than you could shake a stick at. Here in the UK, I suspect your surgery might be a little slower to start tweeting about flu jabs or Christmas opening times, but it will come.
On the other side of the coin, social media has become part of all our lives – whether it is knowing the comings and goings of our celebrities on Twitter, establishing business contacts on LinkedIn or making contact with a long lost friend on Facebook this form of communication is well and truly entrenched in our society.
But, as patients, how would we feel about finding and communicating with a GP by social media? Patients have traditionally had very few tools at their disposal and those they do have tend to be geared towards the more drastic areas of dealings with the medical profession such as malpractice or complaint actions. It is always possible to find out the qualifications and accreditations of a medical professional but what about her bedside manner? His affinity with children? A special interest in a specific complaint?
Well social media and contact with other people through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and other social media platforms has opened the door to connection with all sorts of people – including doctors. With a little detective work, and the ability to pick up on the clues, shrewd patients can use social media to help them research and make an informed choice of the doctor or consultant they see. If a doctor/consultant writes a blog, has a page on Facebook or Twitter followers, uploads photos to Flickr or even videos to YouTube, then you will know that, at the very least, he or she is in touch with the 21st century!