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The GMC wants us to give up our pseudonyms - #saywhat?

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Twitter is rife with rumours at the moment about the General Medical Council - @gmcuk - trawling doctors’ tweets and looking for evidence of malpractice. If Big Brother really is watching me then is it a case of #creepy, or #whyworry?

As of April 22nd the GMC’s latest guidance about the use of social media - encompassing everything from microblogs like Twitter through to long-winded blogs like this one - comes into effect.

#yeahandsowhat?

The guidelines include the classic warnings about not discussing Mrs Jackson’s funny turns in a public forum and treating colleagues with respect. There are a few statements of the obvious regarding privacy (that it is never guaranteed), giving away our location in our Facebook photos (though even if the Statue of Liberty is behind me in my profile picture, it doesn’t mean I’m still standing there now) and patients looking at our public online profiles (which bit of ‘public’ do they think we don’t understand?).

We are also encouraged to remember that the Internet has never had, nor will ever have, a fully-functional ‘delete’ button. #Realitycheck: there’s nothing that’s ever been written by you or said about you on social media websites that a nerd with an adequate supply of chocolate digestives could not unearth in less than an hour.

It’s only when you’ve read through to the last page of the new guidance that it gets contentious.

Section 17 asserts that doctors who identify themselves as doctors online should identify themselves by name, because, and here’s the good bit, ‘material (…) may reasonably be taken to represent the views of the profession more widely’. #saywhat?

Has anybody who’s ever read this blog, followed the @DocCopperfield Twitter feed, tracked down my personal Facebook page, linked in to the LinkedIn site or exchanged witty banter on doctors.net ever taken any of the content to represent the views of the nation’s GPs? #Really?

There are many and varied reasons why a doctor might want to remain anonymous online. I can’t see that forums such as The Couch on doctors.net (where stressed colleagues can turn for non-judgemental support from their peer group) will last much longer if contributors have to specify their name, age, sex and location. #ithoughtitwashimallalong

As you probably know, I Am Not A Lawyer, and I’m no philosopher either. I’m more than happy to leave the debate about the minutiae of sections 8 & 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights to people whose instinctive reaction to the sight of the small print is not to roll their eyes and turn the page.

From what I can gather from the gossip, the GMC are keen to point out that these are guidelines, not dictats. They’re telling us what we should do, not what we must do, and leaving us to use our professional judgement to make the right call. Which wouldn’t worry me, except these are the same people who think GPs don’t have enough professional judgement to know when it’s OK to write an antibiotic prescription for your girlfriend and when it isn’t. #cystitis

So will The Medical Registrar on Facebook,  @DocGrumble & @welsh_gas_doc on Twitter, not to mention all those carefully-crafted pseudonyms on doctors.net, go the way of the late lamented Dr Rant? Let’s hope not. If they did then the online world would be far less interesting than it is now.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can email him at tonycopperfield@hotmail.com and follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Peter Swinyard

    Good man yourself. Or whoever. #sillygrin

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  • Quite right! By the way, I can post anonymously as I've never said I am a doctor. Even though there is a chance I might be. But that the conclusion you can make by reading my post. I deny nor admit what my true profession may be.

    Will that do?

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  • I find it typically coercive, oppressive and two-faced of the GMC to be saying 'you should' instead of 'you must' in this context. It allows them to present themselves as non-directive and open on the one hand and then to come and slam you if they wish and say 'Well, we did advise you very strongly to... and now look what's happened, silly boy / girl. You have only yourself to blame.'

    Doctors have human rights too and one of those rights is to express themselves freely and upset if they wish to, anonymously or not. I don't recall giving up my rights to free expression when I became a doctor. I also don't recall ever signing up to represent the views of my entire profession whenever I open my mouth and if people believe that I do then they are stupid. That, however, is their lookout and not my responsibility.

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From: Copperfield

Dr Tony Copperfield is a jobbing GP in Essex with more than a few chips on his shoulder