In the last three years, less than fifteen minutes of the formal medical school curriculum at my school has been dedicated to social media.
During our orientation, a faculty member showed us a series of images that she had found online, publicly available on Facebook that showed what she considered to be inappropriate behavior: students drinking, dancing and in revealing clothing. She warned us about the impact that images like these could have on our careers and told us that our professional duty was to behave ourselves. It was a message meant to scare us into conservative behavior and away from social media sites.
I have sincere doubts about the faculty member’s assumption that the images were unprofessional, but she was right that they are dangerous, especially when an older generation of physicians may be looking at the use of social media disapprovingly. There’s no doubt that discussing “online professionalism” is currently in vogue among medical educators. Personally, I have a difficult time reconciling this introspective worrying about social media with the news online everyday: more and more people are seeking health information on the web, patients are finding support on social media sites and there is a growing expectation among patients that they be able to interact with healthcare providers online.
This will surely change the doctor-patient relationship, reshape ideas about privacy and, hopefully, make healthcare more patient-centered. Given the difficulty that doctors have had adjusting to patients who Google their symptoms, I suspect that we’re unprepared for people who have heard a range of nuanced opinions from their social network. Our schools are not teaching about how to engage this trend constructively, instead we’re getting blanket warnings about social media and the risks of the internet. I’d like our medical schools to spend less time lecturing about what pictures to post online and more time helping us learn to doctor there.