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Tuesday, May 24th 2011

What’s Appropriate Online

In the surprisingly narrow and inbred world of health care social media there is minor drama at the moment. Over on 33 Charts Dr. Vartabedian decided it prudent to highlight what he, and some others, feel was unprofessional behavior within the social media space.

There really are two separate issues within this hoopla.

The first is the very real argument over whether this particular instance crossed some line and over what, in broader terms, constitutes professionalism in social media use. Social media is a broadcast form of communication as the average health care provider has never had access to before and it necessitates new standards. That discussion has and is taking place elsewhere and isn’t for this post.

The second issue, and the one that really has prompted this post, is the way this incidence was presented and the discussion moderated.

I’m not really sure what Dr. Vartabedian was trying to achieve with his post on 33 Charts. He seems to imagine the post as a place for discussion over what constitutes professionalism in social media use. As a process towards consensus and a learning experience. I hope I’m not assuming too much when assigning him those intentions with his post.

He asks,

Is it unprofessional? Decide for yourself.

[...]

What say you?

[...]

No agenda here. Just creating sorely needed dialog.

A reasonable goal, if that was the focus.

I’m just not sure of that considering the rhetoric through the post, and the comments from Dr. Vartabedian. Short swaths of his commentary seem less like a civil discussion on the matter and more like a personal attack on the physician at the heart of this particular case.

I refuse to follow this character…I should also add what I said somewhere above, when the discussion with my social peers turns to unprofessional, over-the-line Twitter behavior by physicians, @Mommy_Doctor consistently comes up. This is the community speaking, not me. If that isn’t enough, the number of DMs showing contempt for this person’s online behavior have been almost too numerous to read.

Seems meritless to a broader debate, if that truly is what he was trying to foster.

More importantly, I think bringing a particular example into the forefront as a starting point for debate, even if that was Dr. Vartabedian’s sole and sincere goal, is highly counter productive and likely violates Dr. Vertabedian’s own responsibilities.

The AMA’s guidelines on social media seem a reasonable basis on which to judge a physician’s responsibilities online. And as the guidelines say,

When physicians see content posted by colleagues that appears unprofessional they have a responsibility to bring that content to the attention of the individual, so that he or she can remove it and/or take other appropriate actions. If the behavior significantly violates professional norms and the individual does not take appropriate action to resolve the situation, the physician should report the matter to appropriate authorities.

Certainly these guidelines hold no weight but appear to me to be a completely reasonable, well thought and well written. Using Dr. Vartabedian’s own standard, I think it’s something the “crowd” could reach a near consensus on.

In light of that, Dr. Vartabedian’s refusal to engage with the twitter user serving as the accused here is hypocritical.

First, it fails his own responsibility as above. Second, his prominent and public criticism of her is itself a flamboyant form of engagement.

And so that’s where I find fault with this entire ordeal. I can understand those who may find offense with these specific comments but the way the discussion over these issues was handled on 33 Charts was simply wrong. Personally, whatever fault the twitterer at the heart of this debate, I think Dr. Vartabedian owes her an apology for the way he presented this.

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