Even amid strong opinions, docs must keep online conversations civil

Online forums and social media sites can make it all too easy for doctors to vent--and too easy to offend. The debate over whether nurse practitioners should be allowed to practice independently provides a key example of how online comments can quickly turn ugly, according to a post at Health Affairs Blog.

Both sides have strong opinions, but on social media, it's easy to tap out anonymous, hateful comments that can easily be seen as bullying. The post tells of one reader who wrote an article advocating NP independence:

"Within hours of his posting, there was so much hate speech directed at him--including a complaint sent directly to the president of the university where he works--that he feared for his safety. He had the piece taken down, effectively silencing himself."

The two sides can agree to disagree, the authors say, and keep the discourse civil. Among their tips:

  • Avoid drawing broad conclusions from one anecdote ("We had that dumb NP once. She didn't know where the gallbladder is located. So NPs must all be dumb.")
  • No name-calling; Keep things polite and respectful
  • Own your comments; make it clear that you are expressing your own opinion
  • Go for a win-win solution

As the use of social media has grown, physicians have struggled with how to maintain professionalism while also using such tools effectively. A position paper published in April by the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards advocates that doctors maintain separate public and private personas--a strategy that not all accept. It also warns against "venting" in online forums.

Violation of patient privacy was considered one of the biggest social media risks in a survey conducted by the University of California-San Francisco. Still, some staff members aren't getting the message. Several emergency room employees recently were fired from Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Spectrum Health after a patient's photo was posted on Facebook without her consent. And Torrance Memorial Medical Center in California faces a lawsuit after an anesthesiologist put stickers and marks on a patient's face and a nurse's aide snapped her photo, the Los Angeles Times reports.

To learn more:
- read the post
- here's the Los Angeles Times story

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