All my pocket friends: social media relationships

This month’s blog is written by Sue Robins, co-author of January’s article. 

I was proud to have co-authored this month’s paper featured in the upcoming Med Rad Journal Club.  I am the ‘patient’ in The Radiation Therapist and The Patient story 


My confession:  I met my co-author Amanda Bolderston on Twitter. The ‘Pocket Friend’ title of this post comes from my fellow patient advocate Isabel Jordan. I do have friends who live in my phone in my pocket.


I have another deep secret to share.  For many years, I have been friends on social media with people who are health care professionals.  Starting with Facebook, this scourge has spread to Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.  Some of these have spread to IRL (in real life) friendships.  I know friendships between patients and health professionals are frowned upon.  The question I’m really interested in is whythat is.  Not the regulatory body or hospital policy reasonswhy, but the more basic reason why health professionals so afraid of presenting as human beings to patients?


What does it mean to be professional and what does it mean to be human?  I’d assert that many clinicians hide behind professionalism to feed their detachment from patients.  From my perspective at the point of care as a breast cancer patient, the best clinicians are the ones whohave shown me their heart, allowed me to see that they are human too – from a gentle touch, a show of emotion or through sharing something about themselves.  This is my favourite essay about the relationships health care professionals can form with patients.  (It is physician-specific, but can apply to other professionals too). 


The same humanity can be shown on social media too.  Why can’t clinicians and patients engage in conversations on Twitter?  Does the miniscule amount of harm that might happen from such discussions outweigh the great benefit of learning from each other and gaining greater compassion from understanding a different perspective?  


I agree that ‘friending’ a patient in active treatment and under your care should be approached with caution.  But that’s not what I’m talking about.  Amanda was never my radiation therapist, but she did work at the Cancer Agency where I was treated.  My physician followers on Twitter have not been my personal physicians.  Is it possible to be open to patients in general, without compromising your ethics?


I think social media is just another vehicle for us to connect as human beings.  Whether you like it or not, it isn’t going away anytime soon.  


We all want to feel a sense of belonging and to be seen and heard in the world.  Social media helps us do that.  Expressing humanity in health care starts with connection.  Connection should not be erased by risk-adverse black and white social media policies.  


I’m hoping you will be able to openly talk about this murky and grey area in your journal club discussion.  I think the murky and the grey is actually where the humanity lives.




One thought on “All my pocket friends: social media relationships

  1. Pingback: January 18th: Patients, healthcare professionals and social media | medradjclub

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