Baroness Susan Greenfield, the leading brain physiologist, writer and broadcaster, spoke to the RCGP annual conference in Glasgow earlier this month about the perils of living in a cyberworld.
She believes social networking is a kind of Wild West. She is on record as warning that there is little accountability online, where relationships are not face to face, there is no eye contact and there is a lack of ‘real’ or ‘proper’ human relationships – and she has argued those who use social media are missing out on real life. This is the kind of thing she told the assorted doctors at the conference.
A couple of days later I sat alongside RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada and Dr Ben Riley, RCGP medical director for e-learning. Behind us was a massive screen filled with tweets from people in the audience, from people elsewhere in the UK and people on the other side of the world – all talking about social media and medicine.
I’m not very good at large meetings; big groups are difficult for me to navigate and it’s unpleasant to be faced with hundreds of people who all seem to know each other really well and are all having a fabulous time.
But, thanks to Twitter, I did know lots of people, and I found them, and they were just as interesting and kind as their interactions online had suggested. And, unlike Baroness Greenfield’s vision, which suggests social media isolates and dehumanises us, Twitter had made introductions and enabled me to meet people in a way that was quite wonderful.
The real dehumanising force
Back in our surgeries, we are harried by the pressure to fill in PHQ-9s – even though there is no evidence for us to use them in the way we are pushed to – and asked by secretaries to fill in new referral forms – even though we may just have written a very long and detailed referral on an ordinary piece of paper that has somehow been judged not acceptable. Then we find our partners have been pressed into house calls and prescription signing, and we are back in surgery again.
It is in the NHS that human interaction is being squeezed out. There has not been much time – any time – to discuss the latest in whooping cough vaccines for pregnant women, or the headline that tomatoes can prevent dementia, or the advert in the Guardian for a director of intelligence and a director of insight for commisssioning.
The NHS is being slowly dissolved and we are wasting time ticking boxes for contract points, many of which we know are pointless.
On Twitter there are GPs who are passionate about the NHS, about being GPs, about stopping doing things that don’t work and doing things that do.
The RCGP conference allowed me to meet some of these doctors, who I knew in many ways already.
Social media allows us to interact with leaders, to influence and direct them; it makes politicians and journalists more accountable.
It also allows GPs to talk quickly and easily; doctors on Twitter are able to inspire, educate and support each other. We – us GPs – are our own enormous resouce.
As for what Baroness Greenfield had to say? I couldn’t disagree more; social media has the power to create a morality and humanness in healthcare that the health act now threatens to dissolve.
So, if you want something for your PDP next year that involves learning from your peers, I’d make a suggestion. Go on, let out a tweet.
Dr Margaret McCartney is a GP in Glasgow. You can follow her on Twitter @mgtmccartney