I have become a big Twit. (I think the term is a twitterer, actually.) And I had one of my tweets read out on BBC Radio 3 recently. Fame at last!
Twitter has a number of benefits. First, the discipline of expressing yourself in 140 characters is good for ensuring I don’t ramble on.
A further benefit is that Twitter allows a real-time discussion and a cut and thrust of opinion and debate, with others chipping in as and when they can. One example is a discussion I had with a neurologist about access to diagnostic imaging in primary care. We, naturally, see the issue from different perspectives, although I know we share the same overall goal – an effective, efficient National Health Service.
Another value to sites like Twitter is real-time comment on what is appearing in the media.
An example of this is a story run recently on the first NHS hospital to be handed over to the private sector: Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire.
The BBC ran a major piece on this, with gushing praise for Circle, the firm that is running it. Six months into the contract, everything is wonderful. Various statistics are used to prove that NHS hospitals can be run within the private sector more efficiently and better, and an interview with the chief executive was as non-probing as is possible. Only when you begin to see what is being said on social networking sites can you actually see the truth underneath the public relations guff.
There is significant value in using social media to communicate. Will it interfere with the doctor-patient relationship? This is an issue that is being looked at by the GMC at the moment. Those of you who have read this blog in the past will know that I am not a fan of the GMC. It is an organisation that has moved from self-governing of the profession by the profession to a position that is increasingly undistinguishable from the East German Stasi. How else can we explain their wish to regulate doctors’ behaviour for 24 hours a day, seven days a week? The GMC approach to the use of Twitter is likely to be at a position between extreme caution and outright banning.
But Twitter is, I feel, a force for good.
There are some idiots who use it, and that is the penalty that we all have to pay for an open-access forum. Voltaire was right when he said: ‘I hate what you say, but defend to the death your right to say it.’
I feel that I have a relationship with like-minded people on the site, and that helps reinforce my views about what goes on in the mainstream media. I remain deeply sceptical of the ability of Circle to run Hinchingbrooke Hospital and generate a profit – it seems to me to be a trick of smoke and mirrors – and this is a view that I know is shared with other cleverer and better-informed twitterers.
The final thing that I value is that Twitter helps to keep the people in power accountable. They simply cannot keep repeating the same lies over and over in the hope that 10 repeated lies equals one truth.
The Jobbing Doctor is a general practitioner in a deprived urban area of England. You can follow him on Twitter @jobbingdoctor.