Recently I received a friend request from a woman in the community where I practice. I didn’t recognize her so politely sent a message apologizing for not remembering where we had met. She promptly responded and informed me that we had never met but she had read my book. Her baby it seemed was miserable and the wait for an appointment in my clinic was too long for her to bear. Politely pleading for her baby to be seen, I arranged a phone call and subsequently saw the baby in my office.
Now I’ve always helped out those I’m connected to. As a doc I offer friendly advice to friends and neighbors when they need help with medical stuff. Frequently I speak on the phone to the relatives of close friends needing direction with their child. Sometimes I even go the extra mile to help facilitate a consult with a colleague. And why not? I have a connection with these people given our common acquaintance. All physicians and health professionals do it and we think nothing of it.
So should it be different with my social network? Probably not. But just as in life, the depth of the relationships I build on social media platforms is variable. And those I share a strong bond with are more apt to earn my time, mental energy, and concern. Strangers and transients are nothing other than that despite our sometimes-flirtatious Twitter repartee. While I am developing some great relationships, most remain superficial.
Okay, so regarding my screaming baby from Facebook. I didn’t know this mother so why did I offer to help? Social media empathy you might call it. Or perhaps I’m just a big softie. You could even argue that once I chose to reply on that friend request I had some obligation to see to it that the baby was checked out by someone. But that’s the subject of another post.
The relationships we share with those who we choose to connect with on social media platforms will give rise to new social, ethical and legal challenges for physicians. And while I think that raw connectedness and transparency are Parkinsonian traits that we want to achieve in this new medical order, we’re still working to define the doctor-follower relationship.