Saturday, 26 September 2009

Doctors… stop your Twittering!

What is all this Twitter nonsense about? No sooner do I get the hang of blogging than everyone is asking: “Do you tweet?”. To which I normally reply: “only if I’m on a high-fibre diet.”

For those who don’t know, Twitter is a personal blog that’s limited to tweets of just 140 characters. It’s like sending out a one-line mass text message to all your friends… or Followers, as one's Twitter acolytes are known.

Anyway, it appears that Twitter has become increasingly popular with trainee doctors and other younger members of the medical profession. This has prompted a researcher with an ology in ‘stating the bleedin’ obvious’ to claim that tweets might breach patient confidentiality.

The researcher, Dr Katherine Chretien of the Washington DC VA Medical Center, said that medical students may not be aware of how online posting can reflect negatively on medical professionalism or jeopardise their careers.

I can imagine just the sort of thing being twittered…

“Mrs Smith just passed an enormous motion in Room 3!” or “Just gave Mr Johnson a pee bottle with a big hole in it… snigger!”

Dr Chretien said many of the Twitters included profanity and discriminatory language as well as sexually suggestive material and photos showing drunkenness or illicit drug use.

Hello… we’re talking about medical students here. What the hell does she expect? Has the woman never seen Green Wing or watched an Episode of Dr In The House? Medics are notorious for that sort of thing. I once went to a party where the guests were mostly from the medical profession and was staggered by the amount of alcohol consumed and how many of them were smoking. Gallows’ humour it seems is an essential emotional escape valve for those who have to work with the sick, the dying and the terminally stupid.

"Sharing patient stories that are de-identified and respectful, as health professionals might do on personal blogs, can encourage reflection, empathy and understanding,” said the ever-so-earnest Dr Chretien.

"However, content may risk violation of patient privacy, even without using names or other identifiers," the puritan warned.

Oh for heaven’s sake! Lighten up, will you? As long as no names or locations are used then where’s the harm? She’ll be saying jokes are ‘verboten’ next. Why is it that ‘researchers’ always seem totally devoid of a sense of humour or common sense?

The researchers are so bothered by all this naughty blogging lark they think part of a doctor’s training should involve learning how to use Privacy settings on Facebook and Twitter responsibly.

Frankly I’d rather doctors spent their training improving their bedside manner or learning how to put a canula in the back of my hand without it feeling like I've just been shot with an elephant rifle.


  1. I've sussed it!! Eureeka moment. My cousins daughter is training to be a doctor (4year course), the vet on the other hand was telling me he did 7 years training. Well we get you shifted vets twitter don't they? Well they must do with canaries and other things with wings and feathers. Can you get the yellow pages, maybe a ballust on the food trollley, and find a local vet with a kind voice?!! Zoe

  2. Somewhere at the back of my mind I heard that vets can also treat humans but that doctors aren't allowed to treat animals. Anyone know?

  3. Just 3 days to go and the world will know the result of the poll. Can we stand the suspense?
    A request please TM (Baron Femur, Defender of the Patient), can we please have a photo of each contender so that everyone can be encouraged to vote?

  4. Copyright restrictions make this sensible request a little difficult. Howere, may I suggest you do an image search on Google using the words: 'Nigella, 'breasts' and 'naked'. I think that's what you're looking for. Am I right?

  5. Anyone can treat a human, with consent. Animals have a little more protection.

    As for tweeting medical students, teaching them bedside manners is all very well, but I would rather see the present generation being taught more about the management of the causes of bereavement than the inordinate amount of time they spend being taught about the management of bereavement....

  6. Well well TM... you can tell that I too had a long stay imprisoned within the NHS. Why does it lead to such fantasies?

  7. Nestled snugly between the NHS sheets of Bexley Care Trust is a Doctors' Surgery called .... Bedside Manor. Honestly.

  8. !! Love the last comment.
    Glad you are nonplussed regarding twittering. Me too.

  9. Doctors need professional distance, but they also must have personal empathy.

    The former they cultivate as part of the medical culture, the latter they always claim but often do not possess.

    Ergo, in order to prepare proto-doctors to understand the world of the patient, medical training (third year perhaps) should include this compulsory module.

    Students must choose to experience one of the following:

    1. Mis-diagnosis of a life-threatening condition.

    2. MRSA or other hospital-acquired infection.

    3. Any other iatrogenic illness, disease, condition or syndrome.

    Now if that last has you leaping to Google for explanation that's OK. You'll get the drift pretty soon.

    Would be willing to bet 95% of folk or more will be nodding their heads saying "Yup, I've had that." Which is why it is so important.

    (Word Verification has just thrown up a perfect neologism: 'aqualid'. It's brilliant and it means "Any illness or disease acquired as a consequence of squalid conditions in hospitals.")

  10. Twitter me this Twitter me that Whos afraid of a traction man in his bed....

  11. "She'll be saying jokes are banned next."

    Spot on - I wonder if you are familiar with the term "bansturbation" - invented by blogger Harry Haddock a year or so ago. Perfectly describes the lady in question.

    Alan Douglas

  12. Bansturbation is the single biggest threat to our personal freedom. The po-faced PC puritans are in charge for now, but let's hope the day come soon when they are driven from power and influence. Let's hope normality returns.

  13. I must have had unrealistically high expectations of medical studends. I thought if they were bright enough to get into medical school, setting the privacy settings on Facebook and Twitter would have been easy.

  14. Wow, your blog is really educational as well. I never knew that 'verboten' exists in english as well. Cool.