Professional use of social media

Recently there was a very interesting debate on GP and clinical lecturer Anne Marie Cunningham’s blog on the General Medical Council updated guidance on use of social media for doctors. There was quite a lot of concern expressed in the (very many) comments about the seeming requirement to avoid pseudonyms and use real names if identifying as a doctor on social media. The GMC clarified the guidance later, see here.

Following the debate made me return to the Nursing and Midwifery Council social media guidance to see what they had to say. As you will see from the link there isn’t anything in black and white (or even grey, particularly) about the use of pseudonyms, and the guidance is based on using facebook but says it is applicable to other sites too, including blogs and personal websites. This guidance seems relatively straightforward with a healthy dose of stating the obvious at first glance – don’t discuss work-related issues, don’t take and post pictures of patients online, don’t use social networks to pursue friendships with patients. The key it seems to me is to use common sense – don’t do anything in real life that would jeopardise your registration, and don’t do anything online either.

The pseudonym issue, which the NMC guidance doesn’t cover but the GMC guidance has elevated to veritable can-of-worms status, is interesting I think. I choose to use my own name on my blog and twitter (the two main places, along with a vaguely neglected academia.edu profile, that I use for largely professional purposes), and am open about the fact that I am a registered health visitor (although I’m currently working in research rather than clinical practice). Nothing I write here or on twitter should come as any great surprise to anyone who’s worked with me – I like to think that what you see here is pretty much what you get. I have chosen not to talk about things that I’m not happy to have my name associated with; and that’s pretty much it. I can see though that using a pseudonym might be helpful to some people – I’ve known people start off on twitter with a pseudonym because they were just nervous about identifying themselves in this unfamiliar environment and then that name becomes established. Some people feel they can be more open and honest in expressing their opinions using a pseudonym, and are concerned that if patients know that they are expressing opinions in social media that this may affect their relationship. I personally have no beef either way – I have made my choice, and obviously I think that other people should make theirs. This is why I must admit I did raise my eyebrows when I read the GMC guidance that doctors who identify as such online “should” use their real names – the clarification that “should” does not mean “must” still seems quite woolly to me in all honesty. I appreciate the reasoning, that if people are making claims in the name of medicine then identifying who they are will help in discerning whether those claims are credible or not. But it does still seem a bit heavy-handed to me.

I would encourage nurses and other professionals to think about professional tweeting and blogging. As a result of this – hardly prolific – blog, I have been able to be part of conversations recently about evidence-based practice and the future of nursing leadership amongst others, opportunities I’d never have had if I wasn’t involved in these sites. The usual provisos apply (see guidance above) – use your common sense, don’t be defamatory, don’t breach patient confidentiality, etc – but see this as an opportunity to be part of wider significant conversations. You never know who will pick it up – I found out after I started in my current post that my boss and colleagues had read my blog (presumably they had googled me when I was shortlisted) so knew that I could write a bit already. I’m not making any claims to literary or academic magnificence, but it’s certainly not done me any harm. I know that some people are nervous about the professional monitoring of social media use – in my last clinical job we were advised by a senior nursing manager that they receive around weekly requests from the NMC related to people’s social media use – but really, if you use your common sense and don’t do anything silly, I think that social media represents much more of an opportunity than a threat both to personal/professional development and to the chance to contribute to the debates that are shaping practice and services.

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