A couple of weeks ago I got into a conversation on Twitter with Natasha Mitchell, host of ABC Radio's Life Matters. Natasha and I met at the Yooralla Media Awards in 2010 - an episode of her previous program, All in the mind took out the best radio broadcast.
She tweeted a link to the Victorian Government's Department of Justice social media policy - which is a really good guide for anyone who works and uses social media. She also previewed the next day's episode of Life Matters which featured Melissa Sweet of Croakey Blog and Debra Cerasa of the Royal College of Nursing Australia discussing the ways doctors and nurses are exchanging information through social media. You can listen to their discussion here.
In summary, the discussion was about the way social media keeps healthcare professionals connected to others in the profession, and stay informed of local and international progress. The Royal College of Nursing uses Facebook to keep nurses informed of events, and to enable groups of nurses to keep connected.
The recent industrial action campaign by nurses has seen a huge social media presence, with messages on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and on the streets. I've had friends in the healthcare industry post messages of support for nurses, including messages aimed at politicians - in a very responsible and professional way. I believe this professionalism is because of the acceptance that social media is a valid (and instant) form of media, and awareness of social media policies.
Of course, social media in the healthcare industry is also a concern - because people are afraid of privacy and confidentiality of patients. Debra spoke of how the principle of privacy is not different to previous information platforms (such as handwritten notes). She spoke of the regulation of social media use in the healthcare industry to prevent privacy leaks.
Another topic discussed was breaking down the hierarchy between doctors and patients, in the form of a twitter discussion where doctors, patients, researchers and anyone else who is interested in the subject matter can take part.
Natasha posed a question on Twitter and the program about whether hospitals would respond well to negative feedback left by patients via social media. (Barwon Health is one of the healthcare providers leading the way in social media - being open and transparent and also managing risks through the use of their Facebook page.) I responded to her tweet by saying "I attend hospital so much that I am afraid to blog negatively because I need the care of doctors and nurses."
So just as I take care to use social media responsibly by not writing about my work or being seen as representing it online (note the new disclaimer on the side of my blog, on advice from my work's ethics department), I also take care to blog (and tweet and Facebook, and even speak on No Limits) responsibly about the healthcare I receive.
Social media is a great platform to voice opinions - good and bad - about products and services. The case that comes to mind about my voicing my dissatisfaction of a service was when a woman told me to get out of her store because she thought my face would ruin her clothes. I outed her behaviour and store, wrote the facts, posted a photo and received a lot of online support, especially via Twitter and Facebook - including an opportunity to speak on ABC Local Radio in Albury Wodonga about the power of the internet. I guess it was that moment that I realised the power of blogging, and the support it brings. Back then I was quite fresh to blogging, and didn't consider potential legal ramifications of the situation. I actually raised the case with a number of bodies, who couldn't help me, and so my blog was the best platform to promote awareness, and quite frankly, vent. Would I write something again, if a similar event happened? Yes I would, being careful of course.
But I'd never vent my opinions about a bad experience with a hospital or doctor on my blog or social media. That would be a problem for me and the hospital/doctor to sort out privately. Because I need the hospital in my life, and wouldn't want to sully the good relationship I have with them by writing an angry blog or tweet in the heat of the moment. I believe that just as healthcare staff need to follow social media and privacy policies, patients who use social media need to be similarly responsible.
Of course, I expect that even when a patient does vent angrily about a bad experience, they'll be seen to with the highest level of professionalism - a doctor or nurse is likely to remain impartial. But I wonder whether that doctor or nurse would be worried about the trust in the relationship being breached further, by another online rant?
I write about going to hospital a lot. The last two times I went to emergency I tweeted about how I hate the smokers out the front (and had the Cancer Council tweet back telling me smokers aren't the major culprits of this, it's the tobacco manufacturers...ummmm??). I do vent privately about experiences I've had - but I'd never vent about an actual or perceived negative experience at the hospital on my blog. Not even something trivial. I don't want to risk it. I need that hospital to keep me well. And I'd hate for a staff member to lose their job over something I've written. I put my name to my blog. My dermatology team know I have a blog. I've discussed how to deal with being seen as an 'expert' of my condition online and being approached for support. They have print outs of my articles in my file.
When I was in hospital last year, one form of entertainment I made for myself (and others) was to take photos of my meals and post them on Facebook - being a keen amateur food photographer. While I wouldn't joke about the taste/quality of the food (the photos told their own story) my friends would, and my Mum joked to me that soon the hospital would be making me buy my own food! I didn't think it was a danger to share my hospital food on social media because everyone knows what hospital food is like!
Blogging is great for writing about the difficulties in life, and gaining support, especially when you or a family member has a chronic illness or disability. I've certainly used it for this purpose, to tell my own story. But in my opinion, a similar level of professionalism and awareness as healthcare staff should be used by patients when writing about the treatment they received. You're not invisible on social media. Even if you blog anonymously or only use your first name, or don't identify the hospital or doctor, you have a presence that will be noticed. By all means, don't gush if there's no need to. And raise your concerns with the hospital, in private.
But don't run the staff down who are doing their job to make you well. Even if you don't agree with them. Information on social media spreads like wildfire. And reputations are ruined quickly.
Post script: I have a great dermatology team at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. I think we have a good relationship, and I am very open with them about the service I receive. Of course, going to hospital as an in and out-patient comes with its challenges, and I've experienced a few.
What are your thoughts? Should you be using social media to vent about bad healthcare service?