Hot topic: doctors’ use of social media and online behaviour

January 2016

The following is a fictitious, composite case to illustrate some of the social media themes which we’ve seen raised by doctors and others in recent months.

TwitterDr Newton is a GP partner in a busy inner city practice. He is active on Twitter and writes his own blog on issues around healthcare under the username @drrobertfixit, although it is not clear from the information he provides on either forum that he is a registered doctor. He uses his Twitter account to publicise his blog by linking directly to it. Over the last six months his blog has grown in popularity and the number of comments it attracts has increased week on week, from both healthcare professionals and members of the public.

When NICE published new guidance on the diagnosis and management of coeliac disease, Dr Newton decided that this would make a thought-provoking topic for his next blog, especially as the guidance had recently received attention in the press. Predictably the blog attracts a high level of comments.

  • In a response to a comment on the blog, Dr Newton reveals a number of details about a patient he recently treated. Although he doesn’t use the patient’s name, he describes their symptoms and circumstances in such a way that they would easily recognise themselves, and people who knew them might recognise them too by piecing together all of the details he had given.
  • Dr Newton also responds directly to a post from a member of the public whose son suffers from coeliac disease. Within one of his responses he implies that some people can appear to be faddish and claim to be sensitive to gluten when they are not. This generates some angry responses, including one from a poster who identifies himself as a doctor and who accuses Dr Newton of lying.