Thursday, May 26, 2011
Those of you who don't inhabit the medical Twitterverse may be surprised to know that quite the storm broke loose in that sheltered cove these past two days. An anesthesiologist who tweets under a pseudonym posted a few comments about a case she was called in on (it involved priapism, to be specific) and a self-anointed social media medical cop named Dr. Bryan Vartabedian called her out on it. I should emphasize here that there was absolutely no way to identify the patient Doctor #1 referenced and the patient's privacy was not violated. If you want to see the tweets in question, they are linked at the end of his article. I am revealing the name of Dr Vartabedian specifically because he used Doctor #1's tweets and identity without disguising them, despite wondering aloud whether the patient's privacy had been violated (again, in my opinion, it was not). The word "unprofessional" was tossed around - very carelessly, I should add.
I read the posts and was not convinced that Doctor #1 had done anything unprofessional or inappropriate. If you read the comments at the end of Dr. V's post (there were over 130) you will see that there was a vast divide between the "appropriate" and "inappropriate" sides of the debate. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and even patients felt that the idea of making even mildly joking anonymous comments about patients and work frustrations was either human and understandable or appalling and horribly unprofessional, depending on what camp you fall into. My comment was the last of the bunch (I guess Dr. V. got his nuts kicked in and decided to close the comments. How... unprofessional!) and I supported Doctor #1.
The best way to explain my take on all this is, I think, to reference the movie and TV show M*A*S*H. Healthcare professionals are under fire on a daily basis (metaphorically speaking). The show is a perfect reference for what we go through all the time. Black humor is our only defense. Doctors, nurses and everyone else in healthcare have been making sick jokes and complaining about patients since the dawn of time. That doesn't mean we aren't dedicated to what we do. I love my interactions with patients and I love primary care, but if you cut off my ability to crack wise, I'd quit tomorrow. It's a stressful profession and we see terrible things. That's just all there is to it.
Medical "social media," and how I hate that term, is an updated version of the doctors' lounge. However, Dr. V is correct in that now anyone can peer in to see what we're saying and we do need to watch ourselves. I limit my posts about specific cases for this very reason. When I do post I change ages, genders and other minor details. The underlying issues, though, are the same and will remain the same no matter how many changes I make. It's a relief to air my frustrations and a relief to see that other healthcare professionals face the same problems I do. Were Dr. V to make the rules, I daresay none of us would be allowed to post. The hell with that. I need my vent just as much as my fellow posters do. Instead of complaining, Dr. V should observe more... he might learn something.
I certainly respect and appreciate the right to privacy, but I don't think repealing human nature is a practical way to preserve it, and let's be frank -- priapism has been funny since the Greeks.
I read the twitter exchange and didn't get the humor. Or the disrespect. Sailed right over my head.
True, there is a line. And ther certainly are doctors who overstep it. I've seen patients with chronic illnesses who have told me horror stories about their previous experiences.
I would never want to deny someone the camaraderie and support of their peers. Nor is the issue that it's on a blog. We all know that this was an existing dynamic before the advent of the internet, albeit on a smaller scale.