This week the news broke, after a study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (abstract available publically here) that Medical Students are undermining any legitimate use of social media in health care by destroying their own professional image and alienating patients by releasing protected health information. Here’s an article that breaks down the findings: Med Students on Twitter, Facebook: No Patient Privacy? – TIME.
I have a few thoughts. First, are we looking at these student’s social media profiles BEFORE they are accepted? That would give us a picture of what we may be getting ourselves in to. Fact is, if a medical student really believes that it’s acceptable behavior to post pictures/video/accounts of him/herself getting drunk, then they probably aren’t the kind of material that will make good doctors. I’m not sure it would be acceptable for school environmental service workers (janitors) to post that kind of thing. We really need to look at what these people are telling the world about themselves not just the resume or CV they want US to see.
Second, the JAMA study concludes that Medical Schools may not have adequate policy in place. This is definitely the case. Most schools have not moved fast enough to put policy in place. In a professionalism council meeting that I attended, a physician brought up another good point… consequences. What are the consequences when the policy is broken? We have to define consequences and communicate them up front.
I think adequate policy is a legitimate concern, but I also think that policy is really inadequate to solve the issue. If we are not able to teach students how their use of social media impacts their ability to build and maintain a professional identity, then they won’t understand how their ingrained culture (engagement/social media) interacts with their new culture: medical professionalism. A list of rules to digital natives will work as well as telling our (or my parents) generation not to smoke in the boys room. People do it just to break the rules.
We have to teach, model, and expect consistent behavior that reinforces professionalism. We do that now, but if we don’t teach it in the context of the med students culture, we’re only covering half of the material. That may mean that our educators need to learn how to use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
My math teacher couldn’t have expected me to take a math test using a calculator if she didn’t know how to teach me to use it for math. I would just bang away at the numbers like my 3-year-old. That’s similar to what we’re doing right now.
It is unrealistic to expect this generation not to use these tools. Social media and social networks are as much a part of their lives as their parents (sadly, maybe more). We have to see that shift and we have to respond to it by embracing the tools, learning them, and then teaching the responsibilities that come along with them as they relate to professionalism and private health information.
The views expressed here are my own and not that of the Ohio State University Medical Center or the OSU College of Medicine. If you would like to comment, please understand that your comments will be moderated for appropriateness.