When medicine met the Internet, there was a global expansion of medical information: some evidence based and accurate, others misleading and false; for professionals and patients alike to peruse and usurp. Soon, there were online appointments and the ever controversial doctor rating websites. Now, hundreds of millions of people take to the Internet every day to post their own views and stories in an endless sea of social media websites.
Twitter, a free microblogging website inviting users, or tweeters, to post 140 character tweets, now boasts 500 million active users. Whilst it may have started as being a portal into the celebrity world, Twitter€™s demographics have boomed and now includes many doctors and those soon to be.
The buzz of the social media hive is like nothing else and the growth of social media giants like Twitter as well as Facebook with over 900 million active users poses a new question. What role does social media play in the modern day doctor-patient relationship?
I argue that whether we like it or not, their unification has already begun.
Social media has a place in almost every home. Laptops, iPads, tablets and now, in the palm of their hands, people accessing Twitter and Facebook on the go using their smartphones. More and more doctors are emerging on Twitter, some gaining an impressive following. Whilst most simply tweet their day to day lives, some make political references and use hashtags to contribute to debate and protest.
Some doctors, including well known TV doctors, take Twitter one step further and answer medical questions and even recommend diagnoses and treatments.
If you are experienced, knowledgeable and willing to answer such questions responsibly, what is the problem? It offers an excellent way for people to gain simple advice quickly and easily, and has great potential for engaging with young people. I feel the problem is finding a place to draw the line. A consultant offering an answer evokes a different response to if a medical query was answered by an inexperienced Foundation Year doctor.
If an eight minute GP consultation is a time limited struggle, a 140 character tweet with no physical examination is not very insightful. As well as issues regarding false information and patient safety there are concerns regarding data protection. How can we keep patient information confidential if we plaster it over Twitter? A system with doctors communicating medical information to patients over social media appears chaotic and impossible to archive
To include Twitter as a middle man between doctor and patient has the potential to negatively impact not only the patient, but the doctor. Twitter offers a platform to patients, which some inevitably will use to complain and may choose to name their doctor specifically. Concerns regarding doctor rating websites have been well publicised and Twitter offers a new way for patients to vent their anger about named doctors publically.
Where will Twitter take us? Could we one day see doctors and patients communicating blood results via security encrypted social media sites? Will patients be logging on to tweet their GP their morning blood pressure check or BM result?
Social media is expanding daily, as does our capability to employ it in our working lives. I argue that Twitter is a new tool in medicine that we can use to reach out patients, to pool opinions, and shape the health service and methods of practice.
Via PEAS Healthcare, Parag Vora, Lionel Reichardt / le Pharmageek