I have been following a fascinating discussion led by GP Anne-Marie Cunningham entitled "Social media, black humour and professionals..." which has been exploring what is acceptable use of language online by health professionals.
What is humour and what is offensive language?
The first I heard about this story was when I saw that a health professional had refered to labour ward (delivery suite) as "labia ward" and "birthing sheds" on Twitter. Anne-Marie blogged about the conversation because she felt the terminology the health professional was using could be offensive to patients and her post was also discussed further on Facebook: The Medical Registrar. The ongoing conversations on Anne-Marie's blog and Facebook have been really interesting, and included some very passionate ideas...and to be honest...some abusive responses.
How much does language reflect a health professional's attitude and practice?
I am all for having a laugh...letting off steam...and seeing humour in my work. I recognise health professionals have various coping mechanisms for the stress in their lives, and I love a non-PC joke as much as the next man.
What concerns me....does this language reflect an uncaring and disrespectful attitude to patients (and colleagues) that is carried over into the face-to-face workplace? The other thing that concerns me is the role modeling that is happening in public spaces...what message is being passed on to students about how they talk about patients...especially using social media?
Personally, I would feel very concerned if my daughter was being cared for by a health professional who spoke about their patients in this way. How can I be reassured that this attitude is not carried into the health professional's face-to-face interactions? How can I be reassured that he or she would not see my daughter as nothing more than a "labia"? And how could I trust that this health professional wouldn't be blabbing about her on Twitter, Facebook etc especially if he found some "humour" in his interactions with her?
Is Twitter the equivalent of the local pub?
The bottom line is...posting a comment or Facebook is not like having a yarn and giggle down the local pub with mates. Unless conversations are held in closed groups, they can be seen by everyone. As a general rule you should only say online what you'd be prepared to see in headlines in your local newspaper. Personally, I believe this sort of conversation in a public place and the resulting abuse that has followed is unprofessional and reflects very poorly on health professionals.
What do you think? Is this a case of health professionals letting off steam and should be ignored as a bit of fun? Or is it a more insidious indication of how health professionals dehumanize patients? Is this whole discussion political correctness gone berserk or should health professionals be disciplined for talking about patients in this way in social media?
Other commentaries on this discussion:
Paul Levy: A storm brews across the pond
Clare OT: Social Media and the Medical Profession
Image: 'Panama Health Care - Surgery 1'