Saturday, September 17, 2011

What is acceptable language from health professionals online?

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'
http://www.flickr.com/photos/23065375@N05/2234743247

6 comments:

Carolyn Hastie said...

Hi Sarah, glad to see your comments on the issue of professional behaviour and social media. This topic and conversation is crucial because words are so powerful.

As Carmel Niland, former President of the Anti Discrimination Board said in 1992 in her Anne Conlon Memorial Lecture “Women, Power and the Political Process” to the NSW Women’s Advisory Council “Words are seeds. Whole worlds lie curled in them. Three words like ‘women’, ‘power’ and ‘politics’ have a universe in ideas curled in them”.

And so too do terms like "labia ward" and "cabbage patch" when referring to places where vulnerable and trusting people rely on the goodwill of the health professionals working there.

Never before have we had such instant and far reaching ways of communication that are indelibly recorded for all time. I suspect we are only standing tippy toe on the edge of how really powerful and influential social media will be in all our lives. We really have to think clearly about what we are putting 'out there' both personally and professionally. Call those of us who are raising and discussing the issues of social media for health professionals 'humourless old trouts' they may, but the day will come when they will be very grateful for the insights and clarity the conversations will bring to this subject.

Carolyn Hastie said...

Hi Sarah, glad to see your comments on the issue of professional behaviour and social media. This topic and conversation is crucial because words are so powerful.

As Carmel Niland, former President of the Anti Discrimination Board said in 1992 in her Anne Conlon Memorial Lecture “Women, Power and the Political Process” to the NSW Women’s Advisory Council “Words are seeds. Whole worlds lie curled in them. Three words like ‘women’, ‘power’ and ‘politics’ have a universe in ideas curled in them”.

And so too do terms like "labia ward" and "cabbage patch" when referring to places where vulnerable and trusting people rely on the goodwill of the health professionals working there.

Never before have we had such instant and far reaching ways of communication that are indelibly recorded for all time. I suspect we are only standing tippy toe on the edge of how really powerful and influential social media will be in all our lives. We really have to think clearly about what we are putting 'out there' both personally and professionally. Call those of us who are raising and discussing the issues of social media for health professionals 'humourless old trouts' they may, but the day will come when they will be very grateful for the insights and clarity the conversations will bring to this subject.

Carolyn Hastie said...

Whoops, not sure how that doubled up there, but perhaps the message is worth repeating!

willie campbell said...

the message is worth repeating, because the immediate and farreaching records of our con versations are quite spooky.
Willie

Sarah Stewart said...

Yes...it's interesting, Willie...this whole aspect of what is permissible in a private space as opposed to a public space. What worries me is...is being derogatory about patients any more acceptable when they're said in a private space compared to a public space? We can censor all we like, but we cannot censor a health professional's thoughts and attitudes.

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