Several years ago, when my daughter suddenly and inexplicably lost her immune system, modern science and technology contributed to our successful outcome in countless ways. One was social media, specifically a Carepages blog, which connected us with an extended community in a time of extreme isolation, and played a considerable role in the healing.
We invited doctors and nurses to follow our Carepage, but few did. Those who did rarely commented. I didn’t appreciate the wisdom of the choice at the time. I do now.
Reading in the Boston Globe today about a Rhode Island physician fired for posting information online about a trauma patient, I felt sympathy for the doctor. (See http://bo.st/hDHFtZ)
From my experience being a parent in medical crisis to now, as a member of the Community Ethics Committee studying the perplexing issue of medical futility, I’ve developed great empathy for the relentless stress on doctors and nurses, and what must be a frequent need to vent. A computer or handheld device makes it so easy, and is such a bad choice.
The CEC studied use of social media, and though our March 2010 report dealt more specifically with that means of engagement with a patient by medical staff (the CEC saw it as a line best not crossed), we were aware that social networks are largely new and uncharted territory. We were hesitant to create guidelines for use by medical staff, because our report strongly discouraged their use in the first place. And yet clearly there are cases where certain social networks might be a useful resource.
But whether the communication is with patients, or with their own friends and network, doctors and nurses alike would be wise to heed this advice quoted in the Globe from a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine, by Beth Israel doctors and social media authorities Bradley Crotty and Arash Mostaghimi:
“Physicians should think of the Internet as the world’s elevator: Someone nearby is always listening in.”