Do We Care What Doctors Think?

Doctors often avoid an online presence for fear that they’ll be approached by strangers with questions.  I haven’t found this to be the case myself.  I’m very visible in these parts yet I’m shocked by how few people ask questions about their kids.

Susannah Fox today touched on the issue today.  She arranged some recent Pew data which suggest that very few internet users pose questions to physicians online.  What’s far more common, however, is for folks to pose questions for friends and family.

These numbers further support the established idea that physicians are not the sole source of information for inquiring minds.  Community is increasingly where people turn for front-line queries.

But rather than choosing to avoid professionals, Susannah’s findings may reflect the unavailability of doctors to answer questions online.  We know that many physicians still avoid public dialog.  Or perhaps there aren’t the platforms that we imagine there should be.  Despite the availability of just about everything in the infosphere, there are few established, reliable venues for patient questions.  And for good reason.  Stories of personal health are complicated business.  To properly address a patient-specific question requires a thorough understanding of an individual’s story.  Also important is the story of a patient’s family, their data and the variables of their environment.  Increasingly, patients know this.

I’m convinced that as the consuming public develops a more mature relationship with information, they better understand the separate roles of the community and that of a trusted health provider.

Defining Social Standards for Doctors

There’s lots of discussion about how doctors should carry themselves online.  I think it’s simpler than we make it out to be.

Consider that we all live and work in communities.  We’re are shaped by those around us.  None of us do what we do alone.  And what I do and how I behave affects the way my community feels about me.  There are benefits and consequences to what I do.  I can blast fireworks in my yard 2 am, speed in my neighborhood, or get drunk and disorderly at the local Mexican restaurant.  I can volunteer as a scout leader or lead a food drive for a local woman’s shelter.  It’s my choice.  How I operate in public influences how people see me, how I’m received, and ultimately, how people work with me.

New media doesn’t change that.  We live and connect in online communities much like in real life.  And what we do in the virtual space has risks and benefits.  It’s interesting that before the democratization of media there was little discussion about how physicians should carry themselves in public.

Ultimately, defining one social standard for doctors is tricky.  Our patient and professional communities vary.  Standards vary.  We have to understand what works individually for the spaces we occupy and the company we keep – online and off.

We can argue about what doctors should and shouldn’t do online.  One thing’s for sure: In the context of our communities, good stuff build us up and poor judgment can close doors.

It’s simpler than we make it out to be.