Thursday Born

The everyday life of a medical student (who was born on a Thursday).

Our Duty to be an Online Presence

with 2 comments

As part of my practice of medicine class, we were assigned to visit patients with chronic conditions in their homes and talk to them. I and two other classmates visited an incredibly engaging middle aged man with a rather serious condition (that’s rare enough that I don’t feel comfortable disclosing it here) that he and his brother inherited from their father, and that he has passed on to his two children. It is not an immediately fatal disease, and with highly vigilant management, they will die with the disease and not from it.

One of the many things that we talked about that struck me, was the online network of sufferers of this disease and other similar ones. After his diagnosis, and through to the present, it has been an incredibly valuable source of support for him, and it really is an amazing thing. When once he and his family would likely never meet anyone else with the condition, or certainly not more than a small handful, now he can talk to people all over the world about it from the comfort of his home.

I couldn’t help but wonder though; where are the doctors in this? Our patients are comparing notes and experiences, and certainly we do not belong in every facet of their lives, but aren’t we, by definition, a part of their support network too?

I recently read this blog post about how Doctors have a duty to engage in social media online, and I do agree.  There is so much misinformation out there, and we really  can’t do anything to change the fact that unless it’s an emergency (and sometimes even if it is) people’s will often first look things up online.  As medical professionals, this can be incredibly frustrating, especially when patients have a closed attitude and don’t trust their doctors. On the other hand, as patients, it can also be frustrating when doctors are immediately dismissive.

There are many different things that lead up to the unfortunate situation of patient not trusting doctor’s information over the internet, and doctor completely dismissing patient’s stance because it is internet fueled, and I’m not about to tackle them all in one post. One simple, concrete thing that medical professionals can do (so yes, not just Doctors) is to have a stronger online presence.  Annoyed at the information your patients are finding online about vaccinations? Post some more credible information. Search rankings are a fluid, ever changing thing, and with work, maybe when people search, they’ll find information that you feel better about them reading.

But not only is there a problem of misinformation, but there is also a disconnect between us and our patients. We cannot hide behind a paternalistic, distanced mask. Don’t you think our patients would feel better about vaccinations if they realize that we too vaccinate our children? That yes, maybe we’re also a little bit worried but the benefits far outweigh the risks? Maybe they think we don’t care about our patients, or maybe they don’t even realize what it takes for us to become medical professionals, and how much time and effort and money goes into training us.

And maybe it would help people to be a little less scared of doctors. A little less defensive against us. There is a wide variety of negative attitudes out their toward us, and it might be good for us to work on changing their prevalence.

I don’t think the future is doctors (and/or other medical professionals) being available on call online, or frequently emailing our patients or being facebook friends with them. I don’t think it is necessarily our place to be a part of the online systems for sufferers of various diseases, because they need their own safe space. But we should be here, and we should be visible. Hopefully this blog is me doing my part.

I am reminded of this:

Original alt text: "What do you want me to do? LEAVE? Then they'll keep being wrong!

"Duty Calls" from


Written by Aba

October 31, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Health Issues

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I think this is an incredibly timely post. Like you, I don’t think the future of medicine is going to be in a WebMD-like format. I actually just posted on vaccines too, but not quite from your standpoint.

    The real problem–distrust, rather, between the public and the medical community–hinges quite a bit on fear, I think. In terms of health, “we” have to trust that the doctor is telling us the right thing; when the doctor ends up being wrong, we become distrustful. Just like in any other profession, mistakes are made, but people are intimately tied to their bodies (har har). What I mean to say is, we can forget the oversights builders make when constructing our homes, but when it comes to prescribing the wrong medication? People get pissed.

    That’s not to say that I think doctors are at fault here. I actually think the blame rests on the shoulders of the public. Instead of thinking of medicine as an infallible institute, we need to understand that a large part of diagnosis is identifying what things are NOT so that we can make an educated guess on what they ARE.


    November 4, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    • Interestingly enough, it’s been shown that when Doctors admit that they were wrong and say they’re sorry, they get sued far less than when they followed the old advice of never admitting they were wrong (yes, doctors were actually advised by lawyers never to admit that they did wrong). So at lot of it isn’t necessarily patients being pissed when something goes wrong just because something went wrong, it’s patients being pissed because they feel that they somehow were wronged personally in a way that demands justice, which is different.

      So I do feel a lot of the problem is the doctor-patient relationship, which does work on both fronts. Patients need to take their health in their own hands to some extent, and doctors need to do what they can to facilitate a trusting environment.


      November 6, 2009 at 7:54 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: