GPs embrace a new way to network
This month saw the first face-to-face meeting of the UK’s largest GP-only Facebook group – but if you’re not a member, you may never have heard of it
Set up in June 2011 by Dr Kartik Modha, Tiko's GP Group (known to its Facebook ‘friends' as TGG) currently has 1,128 members – and counting.
Dr Modha, a GP in Kentish Town, north London, felt that as a locum at a practice which held no practice meetings, and as a part time out-of-hours GP, he might be missing out on support and the opportunity to share ideas.
After watching a YouTube video called Where good ideas come from, in which the American popular science author and media theorist Steven Johnson says ‘the spaces which create innovation are more important than the innovation itself', Dr Modha decided to fill the space he had found with a community hub for GPs.
It may seem odd to be writing an article about Facebook eight years after its inception, two years after the film The Social Network came out, and four years after 102-year-old Ivy Bean was celebrated as the oldest Facebook user in the UK. But Facebook is fast becoming the social media network of choice for GPs – more so than Twitter, despite RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada's powerful presence, and LinkedIn, the ‘professional' social network.
Dr Modha says: ‘The generation of GPs that we have at the moment is a Facebook generation. Maybe in 10 or 15 years they will be a Twitter generation, but at the moment health professionals have a hard time on Twitter because it is so open.'
And therein appears to lie the key to TGG's success. Unlike the groups set up by the RCGP – the RCGP's First5 Facebook group has only 345 members by comparison – and the BMA, which are open to the public, TGG is a GP-only Facebook group – which means you have to be invited or request to join and be vetted via your GMC number before you can access its hallowed wall.
Dr Avradeep Chakrabarti, a GP trainee from Swindon, is on the Severn Deanery GP ST committee and is involved in promoting events and exams to trainees via Facebook. He says that so far the response has been ‘minimal', and says this is ‘possibly because people are wary or the content is not sufficiently updated.'
Nonetheless, he agrees that ‘most friends and colleagues who are GPSTs or GPs are on Facebook'. He also believes – along with many of his colleagues – that Twitter is used more ‘in the media compared with the health service'.
The BMA's Facebook page is run by a team of BMA staff and is aimed at the general public as well as the profession.
A spokesperson from the BMA says that it is a fan page rather than a group, and functions as a method of filtering out information from different sources: ‘The page isn't restricted to GPs or BMA members. It is for all members and anyone who is interested in what we have to say.'
Reflecting the growing importance of social media in everyday life, both the GMC and BMA have drawn up social media guidelines. The BMA splits its guidance into clear subheadings: patient confidentiality, maintaining boundaries, the doctor-patient relationship (which includes not becoming Facebook friends or sharing personal information with past or current patients), defamation and professionalism.
Dr Modha has posted these in the files section of the TGG Facebook group, but says TGG uses ‘light-touch moderation' and, because of its professional nature, ‘largely polices itself'. Six members currently volunteer as part of the core Facebook group team and moderate the wall.
The mission statement of TGG is simple: ‘To share valuable information, host networking events and save GPs time.' How does Facebook save time, exactly? Well, according to Dr Modha ‘GPs live their lives in 10-minute modules' and are ‘very sensitive to time'. Having one place where they can socialise, ask questions, help out a fellow GP with a difficult diagnosis and get information about their own puzzles is time-saving – or, as he colourfully puts it, ‘a bubble of joy, like a chocolate bar'.
The group acts a forum for GPs to talk about anything from clinical problems and pictures of puzzling rashes to questions about pensions or indemnity insurance. There is also a files section of the group where journal articles and guidelines are posted, as well as articles that are not published in journals but are of interest GPs. Dr Modha tells of one member who posted up guidelines that she had created in conjunction with Diabetes UK on treating patients during Ramadan. This was picked up by lots of members of the group, both Muslim GPs and those with Muslim patients.
‘One person's excellent work helped many more people,' says Dr Modha.
Dr Anu Patel, a GP in Lambeth, south London, says the TGG group is ‘one of a kind' and that the move into the digital world is ‘fundamental to GPs'.
‘The way we are educated and work needs to keep up with the times,' he says. ‘TGG is brilliant because it connects GPs in a world where it is difficult to arrange face-to-face meetings.'
Accessing Facebook via your smartphone or on your laptop before bed is also ‘a quick way to feel supported and upskill yourself as part of your daily routine,' he adds.
The demographics of the TGG group are perhaps surprising – while many are the expected First 5ers and trainees, there is a sizeable group of members in their 30s and 40s, which largely reflects Facebook usage across the board. But Dr Modha says that through checking users' GMC numbers he has noticed a number of members who qualified in the 1970s, suggesting the group has a broader reach and appeal.
Dr Krishan Banot, a GP in Lewisham, south-east London says that GPs often feel isolated and the group is a good way of getting ‘a second pair of eyes'.
It is also ‘nice to know that other GPs have the same questions and worries as you', he says.
There's also the social side, and it is this latter element that came to the fore when TGG moved from the virtual world to the real world at a black tie networking dinner – or ‘EduSocial' event – at the Landmark Hotel in central London on 14 July.
The dinner attracted 42 GPs – not bad going for a Saturday night – and drew sponsorship from companies such as Medic Accountants, eager to access an active and interested GP audience (TGG is a not-for-profit group), as well as support from Wesleyan, BMA, NB Medical and Locum Organiser.
General practice is not a profession typically associated with networking, which for Dr Modha was the point of creating the event.
‘We're all having the same problems,' he says. ‘If people make virtual bonds online and then meet, this reinforces a positive relationship in real life, creating links and bonds between GPs in different CCGs. It's important to see that this is the way forward'.
See below for a slideshow of images from TGG's live event or watch via our Flickr stream here.