Sep
16
2012

Following Patients on Twitter – The Other Side of the Chief Complaint

I recently tweeted asking about favorite patients, physicians, and students on Twitter and was met with a plethora of shocked tweets at my inclusion of patients as potential Twitter interests.

Perhaps other medical friends interpreted this as being similar to meeting people in clinic and asking for their Twitter handle (which is not something I do) or maybe people really think it’s wrong to follow patients on Twitter, I don’t know. However, I do know y’all should be aware of why following people who tweet about their medical problems is beneficial to me as a future physician.

I don’t follow all that many people on Twitter – I find it overwhelming to keep up with too many people. Dr. Vartabedian at 33 Charts expressed my sentiments on this perfectly in a recent post, “How I Avoid Filter Failure on Twitter.”

So why, with my limited “following” numbers, do I preferentially follow people who tweet about their experiences as patients?

How often in medicine do we forget that on the other side of that chart and chief complaint is a person?

What if we are forced to understand that a person’s ailments and the way their physician treats them often directly affects their entire life?

I’ve mentioned before how incredibly eye-opening it has been for me to follow people in the infertility community. I’m currently on my Ob/Gyn Sub-I and am keenly aware of how heart-breaking infertility, high-risk pregnancy, and pregnancy loss can be for my patients, purely because I’ve been exposed to some of these women’s stories online.

@EndoJourney is struggling through this right now and her story is one of many that makes me so exquisitely cognizant that the worries of pregnancy (and the heartbreak and fear of pregnancy loss) do not end when a patient leaves our office. Some of these women (often along with their spouses and families) are forced to worry 24 hours a day that a very wanted child may never be in their arms.

Medical problems permeate lives. When we, as healthcare providers, forget that our actions, our words, our demeanor truly affects the well-being of our patients we easily lose compassion and gain complacency.

So, yes – I follow patients on Twitter. Not my patients, but patients who share their stories. I follow patients who explain how their doctors have affected their mental and physical health – how their physicians have failed them or fought for them and how it made them feel.

I follow patients to understand…to avoid complacency…to maintain compassion.

I learn from these people on a curve much different than that of traditional medical training, because through them I learn to be acutely aware that my actions – both positive and negative – are not quickly forgotten.

I am sharply conscious that an ounce of honest compassion can significantly improve someone’s mental well-being…and that a moment of carelessness can destroy it.

And that, my friends, is not something that can be learned from a textbook.

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8 Comments + Add Comment

  • Bravo! A very excellent point; thank you for being a well-rounded soon-to-be physician.

  • Excellent your #med2 reflections. I´ll share your views, which are many professionals´ views, by the way!

  • Danielle, this is a great article that displays a profound amount of insight. Cheers!

  • [...] Jones explains, “I follow patients on Twitter. Not my patients, but patients who share their stories. I follow patients who explain how their doctors have affected their mental and physical health – how their physicians have failed them or fought for them and how it made them feel.” [...]

  • [...] Danielle Jones, M4 (Medical Student), 4th Year [...]

  • [...] Med X has maintained a human side by giving a loud voice to patients, something I think is incredibly important to maintaining compassion in healthcare, and still managed to be on top of medical information by [...]

  • Love your article…. but if my doctor followed my blog (I don’t twitter) she’d definitely never ever prescribe me medications ever again. So there’s that.

  • [...] and talking #meded with others in the healthcare world, it extends into the world of patients and their stories. Social media is fun, it’s interesting, and it’s a good way to interact, but more [...]

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About The Author

I’m a Medical Student (that means I'm in school to become a doctor). My life story can be viewed here. I started this blog in hopes of landing a role in a Lifetime movie so I could quit school and move to Hollywood, so if you wouldn't take medical advice from Angelina Jolie, you shouldn't take it from me. I may not even be a real person. In fact I'm probably a spambot. Or a 15 yo boy blogging from a dingy basement. If you're really interested you can read more about me here. If you have any questions or want to guest post contact me.

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