Why GPs should embrace social media - Professor Clare Gerada

The RCGP Social Media Highway Code, a guide for healthcare professionals using social media, is launched on Monday (18 March). We'll follow this with a lunchtime Twitter debate on 22 March and I invite you to join me at #RCGPSoMe.

Twitter is an excellent way to debate and share ideas about primary care. It has the potential to enhance the communication that healthcare professionals have with patients and public.

There is always a line; the question is where? Sometimes it gets very blurred and I've often battled with the dilemma of whether or not I should reply to a tweet from a patient.

Before social media there was the issue of whether to share email addresses with patients and before that, phone numbers. With social media the key is regulation. I can regulate who sees my emails and whose calls I answer. But once something is on social media, it's public.

When to use social media, how and with whom, is a judgment call but, until now, there has been a lack of guidance. I'm proud the RCGP code is the first practical guide to help UK healthcare professionals navigate their way around the ethical dilemmas of social media, showing how it can be used to improve healthcare.

Social media has potential for many benefits. It can improve access to healthcare services and disseminate information to hard-to-reach groups such as teenagers. The important thing is knowing how to navigate social media while protecting yourself, your patients and the population.

The simple 10-point plan encourages social media use and makes doctors aware of risks. It draws from experience of doctors, nurses, journalists, lawyers and patients and is designed to help healthcare professionals make judgments. Since we launched the draft version at last year's annual conference, the response has been fantastic. The code has been updated to address issues.

When we launched the draft at our conference, we had an online debate and were trending #1 in the UK on Twitter. I hope we can replicate this buzz so do join @drbenriley and myself (@clarercgp) on 22 March (12-1pm) using hashtag #RCGPSoMe and let's set the Twittersphere alight.

  • Professor Gerada is a GP in London.

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