Online privileges mean online responsibilities…especially for professionals!

johnathanlaird150Why social media benefits outweigh the risks for pharmacists by Johnathan Laird

The dissemination of information nowadays is rapid. ‘Just Google it!’ has become a popular refrain. Health information and the privacy issues surrounding it have meant that searching for advice online is now second nature for most tech savvy patients.

I started my blogging adventure about a year ago. Little did I know back then that my blog site would attract any readers at all never mind the 36,000 hits it has received. I’m staggered at the power of the Internet and the ability of individuals like me to share information/opinions quite easily to wide and diverse audiences. It’s quite remarkable that every time I tweet I do so now to over 10,000 people.

I would say the most positive impact of this on my professional practice so far has been to allow me to network with and meet professionals with similar interests. I have met so many wonderfully talented professionals.

I have an interest in prescribing and specifically prescribing in the respiratory field. Twitter has allowed me to connect with and seek the views of the leaders in the respiratory field. This is a huge advantage especially for community pharmacists who have traditionally worked in relative professional isolation.

One of the important skills I learned as part of the pharmacist independent prescribing course was the need for peer review of one’s prescribing practice. The online community provides a way for me to achieve this whilst still allowing me to continue working in the wilds of Scotland!

I have encountered the dreaded ‘trolls’ on Twitter but they are exactly what the block button is for. If people choose not to rise above personal insults in a professional discussion/argument then for me they have already lost. Medicine is about evidence based practice and our interpretation thereof. As in the offline world my view is that we should argue our points passionately but once the encounter is over the mutual respect imparted through a handshake is of critical importance.

If you are a novice and are thinking about getting into Twitter or blogging as a professional, my best advice is to consider the shadow you cast when you interact online. Think carefully about how each stakeholder in your life will view your opinions or what you write. I would suggest that if you were not comfortable expressing a view in your professional capacity then don’t do it online. As in real life you may want to consider when you agitate and when you collaborate.

For me the benefits far outweigh the risks and as with any relatively new activity people will resist or not engage for a multitude of reasons.
In many ways the nature of our society I believe is reflected online. The only interesting difference that has developed is that online your proximity in geographical terms to the person you are engaging with is no longer important. This dramatic change which allows us to connect globally is very exciting.

It is a privilege to be a pharmacist and to enjoy the benefits that the role brings. However with this privilege comes responsibility and more than that a duty in my view to use your professional capability for the benefit of others.

This effect, both positive or negative, has the potential to be significantly amplified online. How you choose to share your talent online us up to you, but share you must.

Johnathan Laird is a community pharmacist and a member of RPS. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnathanLaird. You follow the blogs on his website at http://johnathanlaird.com/

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