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Social media as a force for anti-racist good

Dr Punam Krishan 

 

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I’m a GP from Glasgow. Recently, I shared two experiences I had at the practice I locum in. Both Tweets struck a chord with the public and went viral. The whole process, as overwhelming as it was, has given me food for thought about modern-day medical practice in the current model of our NHS. Having qualified 12 years ago, I’ve heard nothing but pessimism and crisis chats; resources and funding have remained static; and, worst of all, doctor morale is lower than ever.

As 21st Century doctors living in a clued-up society, maybe we need to get more innovative. But how can we create positive discussions and mass engagement within the realms of good medical practice, and steer the boat in a direction that alleviates some of our daily woes?

Social media has its problems, but my recent experience show that it's a powerful conduit for conversation and change. Patient questionnaires, surveys and groups all play important roles, but are we being idealistic in thinking these represent the masses? Sure, we need the data, but we also need to get realistic.

Doctors should not be afraid to share their thoughts, reflections and feelings

My first Tweet sparked nationwide debate about missed appointments. I wrote it on a day where care was limited due to public holidays, and five patients who had booked appointments failed to show up. Upon contacting them, I discovered they had no legitimate reason for not calling to cancel. My Tweet came from a place of frustration - I felt bad for those patients who needed appointments but couldn't get access, causing me to stay and deal with them. As a mum, I'd wanted to get home on time for once, on Christmas Eve, but due to the inconsiderate no-shows, this wasn't possible. 

With a reach of two million, the Tweet was picked up by the press– unbeknown to me – but the topic of missing appointments, potential fine systems and naming and shaming got discussed at scale, reaching all corners of society, planting seeds and getting people thinking. Guilt was felt, a sense of pride for their NHS was ignited and ownership of responsibility for one’s part in the health journey of others was highlighted.

My second Tweet came from heartfelt gratitude to my receptionist, who empowered me by standing up to a racist patient. I’m an ordinary person who's Scottish, but I have an Asian heritage. This patient had refused to see me because I was Asian, and wanted to see a Scottish doctor instead.

With a global reach of 4.9 million, the Tweet took on a life of its own, with #EndRacism trending across all news platforms. Doctors, nuses and other healthcare professionals came forward to speak about their experiences, and the public united in solidarity for the greater cause. A tiny minority of trolls did hurtle personal abuse, but I accept this is what happens when you put yourself out there.

The mass responses weren’t because I’m good at Tweeting (quite the opposite!), but from a place of honesty and transparency. As healthcare workers, we are no less fragile, vulnerable or human than the rest of society. Money or politicians cannot change this interface – conversations need to happen at a grassroots level, and food for thought needs to be given out in abundance.

Social media, when used appropriately, is a powerful platform for relaying information, public education, and, most significantly, gauging public opinion about service provision. Doctors should not be afraid to share their thoughts, reflections and feelings, because for too long we have shown a robotic resilience, which only led to us feeling isolated.

Standing up and speaking out against abuse of the NHS and our peers is the only way to try to change the status quo. Of course we have guidance from the GMC, where patient confidentiality and personal professional conduct is paramount. I believe messages can be delivered, however, via accessible ways and can create powerful impact.

A song my five-year-old loves listening to resonates deeply. In the words of Ninjago, ‘If you don’t like what the world’s saying, it’s time to start a new conversation’. Maybe we should be doing just that.

Dr Punam Krishan is a sessional GP in Glasgow

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Readers' comments (10)

  • Several points on this piece.And let me declare that I, as MP Angela Smith would say, have a "funny tinge" to my skin.

    Let us put our emotions, and self-congratulatory delusions, aside and take a nuanced, counter-intuitive perspective on this. To believe that the spectre of racism has been slayed because the patient took the appointment card is a vacuous notion; the patient may have really needed to see a doctor and their comment, the origins of which are presumed to be racist in origin, could conceivably have stemmed from some less than satisfactory interaction with an Asian doctor before. Perhaps they are racist, or perhaps they were attended to previously and found an issue with understanding the doctors diction. Perhaps pursuing the patients ideas could have shed some light on this. And to claim this "never happens" (ergo- racism must be the explanation), most of us realists would accept, is patently false.

    Racist views often run deep, yet can exist with self-serving pragmatism.

    You claim we live in a clued-up society and yet I am not clear on what this trite phrase means. It is incorrect to assume that the readily available reams of information, when viewed through the lens of superficiality and emotion leads to necessarily being "informed", which is what I'm presuming the descriptor to mean.

    The set-up of the NHS is an active hindrance to the public really valuing it, which is apparent when the issue is evaluated by looking at peoples actions rather than their words.

    This piece stinks of one of the modern curses which is Social Justice Warriorism and misses the unpalatable truth that racism always has and will continue to exist but blaming it for everything represents another curse which is superficial emotion-driven thinking.

    And if you don't like what the world is saying, get off Social Media where the most astute opinions are submerged in an ocean of dross.

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  • Another virtue signalling puff piece.Most people who are labelled racist are not racist.They are merely displaying loyalty to their "tribe",their "herd",which is hard wired into our mammalian genes.It is a Darwinian alerting mechanism that serves to protect a group from a potential external threat.Racism on the other hand is a psychopathological condition which manifests in a desire to kill someone of a different race.

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  • I wish we could thumbs up on comments :)

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  • More fool you pre-booking a load of routine appointments on Christmas Eve!
    People have better things to do than go to the doctor then and it's arrogant to expect them to.
    In addition, ringing them up to ask why is frankly paternalistic bullying

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  • What a fantastic and insightful piece. Some of the comments made by 'contributors' detract from the message in the article (and come across as nothing but sheer denial of a problem that needs tackling head on i.e. racism). The excuses proffered by some of these 'commentators' are nothing but poorly intellectualised and self-serving nonsense.

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  • |Demoralising Profession | GP|24 Feb 2019 3:28am

    Insightful? the only denial here is you refusing to look deeper into the issue than the label 'racism'. For all your criticism, I can't help but notice you proferred nothing else as a counter-argument, and also chose to comment anonymously...

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  • @Christopher Ho. Firstly, you ought to understand that I have no need to share my personal contact details with you online. Secondly, I see nothing in your original comment: "I wish we could thumbs up on comments :)" that adds anything positive to the discussion on the issue of racism. My comments proffered an opinion on the denial that exists when it comes to acknowledging and tackling racism: a good place to start discourse. Perhaps you ought to take some time to reflect on the way you respond to your fellow colleagues on this platform.

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  • @Demoralising - I never asked for your contact details, but at least stand up for your beliefs by giving your name. My original comment was simply an approval. The other comments did offer something positive to the discussion. Its telling you virtue-signallers to look deeper, not denying it exists. That's a good place to start, isn't it? Instead, it seems to have gone over your head completely. I respond perfectly well, in the way all responses should be to bad ideas - with ridicule. There were no ad-hominem attacks, unlike yours 'The excuses proffered by some of these 'commentators' are nothing but poorly intellectualised and self-serving nonsense'. Wonder who it is that has to reflect on their responses

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  • @ Christopher Ho, I read your response with mild amusement, it is very clear that you are not comfortable with being challenged. Well, I will challenge your response, for it is important that you understand that it is important to respect contributions from your peers on this platform, and further, that you try to do that without trying to 'ridicule' them.

    You make the following points in your reply: Christopher Ho | GP Partner/Principal 27 Feb 2019 9:19am

    1. "but at least stand up for your beliefs by giving your name." I would like to respectfully remind you that a 'belief' is a highly subjective phenomenon, it is not qualified by a name, nor is it qualified by race, gender and or sexuality, and so it seems immaterial to me that you feel a point needs to be substantiated by providing a 'name'. What difference would it make if my name were Dr Patel or Dr Smith? Would my name help change the content of my response? No;

    2. "My original comment was simply an approval" - I would add that your blind 'approval' does not validate and or substantiate reasoning that is set out in a poorly thought out response. Perhaps you ought to consider carefully what it is that you blindly 'approve' with a redundant and somewhat flippant 'thumbs up';

    3. "The other comments did offer something positive to the discussion. Its telling you virtue-signallers to look deeper, not denying it exists. That's a good place to start, isn't it?" - actually, I don't agree, I think the gist of those comments forgets that racism does in fact exist and one must challenge it without proffering an excuse that the likes of you offer with your ill judged 'thumbs up approval'. Only with the recognition of a problem can one start to think about solutions - I trust you will agree with that;

    4. "I respond perfectly well, in the way all responses should be to bad ideas - with ridicule" - I would state that the only person that is ridiculing themselves would be you with your 'bad' response. It might be worth your while considering the contributions of the writer in this case, someone who has put thought and effort into an issue that is important - but that you feel is worthy of 'ridicule'. I would suggest that racism (and any discourse on it) should be given due consideration to encourage positive dialogue. Your responses indicative of 'ridicule' or collusion with that line of thinking do nothing but shut down intelligent debate. Perhaps you ought to consider the impact of your ridiculing' comments;

    5. "There were no ad-hominem attacks, unlike yours 'The excuses proffered by some of these 'commentators' are nothing but poorly intellectualised and self-serving nonsense'." - I would state that your initial collusion with responses that are in denial of racism are an attack in themselves on the writer and the concept of racism; the writer deserves respectful debate.

    Oh, and before you do a knee jerk response, please note that I will not ingratiate you with another reply. I will leave you to think about the points above and I sincerely hope that you will be able to reconcile with some of the points made. Best wishes.




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  • @Demoralising. Wow, the lack of insight here is strong. I'm perfectly fine with being challenged. Whilst it seems your lack of 'ingratiating another reply', seems to be the one who is poorly receptive of debate.
    1. Respect is earned, and while you lack the conviction to post a name behind your comments, I could be speaking to anyone, much less a fellow professional. Ridicule is the response to bad ideas, regardless of the source, be it an 'expert', or otherwise. Anonymity makes no difference to the content of your response, it simply reinforces the impression that you're a troll.

    2. Your suggestion that my approval was not carefully thought out is unfounded. I am very careful with what I say and post. As offered before, this point you make is nothing but more ad-hominem attacks to other commenters and myself. Which I can brush off and respond with ridicule :)

    3. I think you need to read the comments again. "Perhaps they are racist, or perhaps they were attended to previously and found an issue with understanding the doctors diction. Perhaps pursuing the patients ideas could have shed some light on this" "Racism on the other hand is a psychopathological condition which manifests in a desire to kill someone of a different race." - Do these sound like a denial of racism? We recognise the problem, we're simply asking you to look deeper, which seemingly you're unable or unwanting to do.

    4. Again, I leave the readers the freedom to judge me. IDGAF, and others said nothing to shut down debate, we offered a counter argument respectfully, for which you seemingly can't engage with.

    There's nothing knee jerk about my response, and whilst you might very well not read this, there are other readers of pulse, who can make their own minds up about our comments.

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