Social media by health professionals

At a recent meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine about the response of the emergency services to the London and Manchester terror attacks, many of the clinicians praised social media as a means of communicating with each other in times of crisis. The NHS, however, is still wedded to the pager and has more than one in 10 of the world’s pagers in use at a cost of £6.6 million a year – despite the availability of modern technology at half the price. Doctors, nurses, and other workers in hospitals such as paramedics still use these ageing devices, which were invented in the 1940s, to communicate with each other. Critics described the pager as a ‘blunt instrument’, and said the bleep the devices give off do not give the user any sense of ‘urgent priority’ to answer the incoming message.

Apparently though, the General Medical Council does not approve. The General Medical Council held 28 investigations related to doctors’ use of Facebook, Twitter, or WhatsApp between 1 January 2015 and 30 June 2017, recent figures obtained by The BMJ have shown.

In three cases, doctors received a warning from the GMC. A warning indicates to the doctor that a certain conduct, practice, or behaviour is a departure from the standards expected of the medical profession and should not be repeated.

What are your views? Do you use social media as a means of communication at work? Do the NHS and GMC need to grasp this particular nettle?

Comments (5) Add yours ↓
  1. Ben Challacombe Consultant Urologist

    Social Media and particularly @twitter are a fantastic virtual environment for a medic to be part of. It is however fraught with danger if used inappropriately.
    I am on Twitter most days and particularly at conferences and when new trials and results make the press. It is a great way of connecting with people in the same or similar fields all over the world and one gets a good feel for the current issues from the reactions of key opinion leaders.
    I have made some great friends through twitter and there is even a urological journal club @urojc #urojc
    There are rules for conduct which must be adhered to such as dont ever make personal comments, use inappropriate language, use when angry or drunk. If you think you might not be advised to post something- DON’T!
    The safest advice is to observe a lot and say only a little- certainly to start with.

    I watched on twitter as the terror attacks occurred right next door to my hospital as it gave me the most up to date news and enabled me to advise my wife, who was on call there, what was occurring a long time before the standard news agencies caught up.

    We published some guidelines for engaging responsibly on this subject a couple of years ago.
    with a table of the key points.


    September 13, 2017 Reply
  2. Declan Murphy Urologist

    There are pro and con arguments for the use of social media by health care professionals (HCPs).

    On the pro side – social offers incredible access to huge amounts of content with unparalleled speed and reach. It has transformed the way we access news and engage with others in our personal lives, and we have all got used to that. I agree with ben’s comments and I am a keen Twitterer. On the con side, there are clearly risks for HCPs due to the inherent lack of privacy in all social platforms, and the BJUI Guidelines Ben referred to are a useful guide. Available as a blog here Those who have fallen badly foul of regulatory bodies have often breached confidentiality requirements (even inadvertently), or have failed to maintain professional standards, and therefore can be held to account.

    However I think where this discussion is of considerable interest is not so much in the use of social platforms, but in the use of instant messaging systems such as What’s App or We Chat. How many readers are using these in groups to discuss clinical cases or other matters?? They are very convenient and allow images and videos to be shared, but are they 100% private? If someone loses their phone then then all of this could be exposed.

    Bottom line – all of these communication platforms are fantastic and a key part of our personal lives. We just need to apply good judgment and exercise reasonable precautions when embracing them in our professional lives. The BJUi Guidelines are worth a read

    September 16, 2017 Reply
  3. Matthew Bultitude Consultant Urologist

    It seems to be urologists who regularly use twitter are replying.

    I agree pagers are outdated and largely need to be replaced. Mobile phones are much more convenient for both sides. Many will recognise the frustration of paging someone from a ward phone and then having to sit there, wait and in fact answer the phone to several other callers.

    Ben and Declan highlight the dangers of social media as well and certainly caution should be used. However social media – especially twitter – offer a fantastic way to keep in touch with latest information and to get involved with discussions. It has also been used to crowd source opinions on difficult cases – although IMO written consent would be required and caution should be advised as the history, images and subsequent conversation will be available for all to see.

    Finally messaging services such as WhatsApp offer instant messaging / communication for groups (e.g. teams of junior doctors ; medical firms etc) to contact each other, discuss cases , share on-call patients/ images etc. Whilst encrypted these is not authorised for use with confidential information (in the UK anyway) and so again caution is advised. Apparently the NHS will launch a “secure” version in the future for such use although functionality will be important to assess.

    So in summary – all these novel methods are useful and clearly the future. However be aware of the risks and as a general rule – if you think you shouldn’t be tweeting/ sharing something then you probably shouldn’t.

    September 17, 2017 Reply
  4. Culley Carson Professor

    We struggle with the some of the same issues in the US. However, added to the struggles is the fact that medicine in the US is a competitive business with large systems buying practices and hospitals and many of us are now employees of large systems. This issue adds to the concern about social media as we must be cognoscente of the impact social postings might have on our employers. Also, ther is a huge amount of fake and marginal information on many of these sites with medical advertising for complimentary medicines and touring miracle cures and treatments abundant. With that said, many Americans get health news and updates from Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and others. I would caution the users of these social media sites to caveat lector or let the reader beware.

    I think as practicing physicians, it is our duty to put only well established, evidence based information on our posts and refrain from advertising services while keeping our patients and our public informed.

    September 20, 2017 Reply
  5. David Cranston Professor

    I agree caution with social media although it can be a useful way of communication. Mobile phones of course are excellent but sadly the coverage in the UK is often lacking. I had no trouble on the Paris metro and in many continental tunnels but not on the London underground and many area of our hospitals have poor or no signal.

    September 21, 2017 Reply

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