Here’s a multiple choice question for you:
Which post on the wall of the doctor’s Facebook page must be deleted? (Note: ‘Doctor’ can be replaced with ‘health professional’)
a. They made me wait for an hour and when I finally saw the doctor she rushed through the consultation and didn’t seem to care. I will never go to this practice again.
b. Thank you doctor for your kindness and excellent care. We are so glad our daughter has recovered; we will not forget what you have done for her.
The right answer should be: neither post. Good social media etiquette requires a response; deleting posts is generally not recommended. The real answer is: b.
By now most of us are familiar with the risks of social media. It is unfortunate that yet another peril has been added to the list: Australian Doctor magazine reported that doctors can be fined $5000 if a patient posts a testimonial on the doctor’s Facebook wall or other social media platform.
According to new advertising & social media guidelines from the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA), post b is a testimonial and must be removed. The general message is: all testimonials are wrong. I argue this is not the case. The danger of AHPRA’s line of thinking is that health professionals are put off social media and will stop sharing health information with consumers. Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of testimonials.
- Consumers share their experiences via testimonials. This allows others to make decisions about which products or services to choose.
- Testimonials increase transparency by giving consumers a look behind the scene.
- Customers are able to express gratitude via testimonials.
- Testimonials are rewarding and motivate staff to continue to provide a quality service or product.
- Just like complaints allow for negative feedback, testimonials are a way to give positive feedback.
- Testimonials empower consumers.
- Testimonials are subjective and do not always give a complete picture.
- Testimonials can be falsified.
- Information in testimonials can be misleading: e.g. incomplete, untrue or unsubstantiated.
I understand that AHPRA wants to protect the public. CEO Martin Fletcher said: “Our priority is making sure consumers have access to clear information so they can make informed choices about their healthcare (…)” Could it be that allowing the public to post testimonials about their health care experiences is not in conflict with this priority?
To be clear: I’m not talking about e.g. before-and-after pictures or stories (see image). There is a difference between traditional testimonials and genuine responses and exchange of appreciation via social media – which is what most Facebook and Twitter users do every day. People ‘like’, ‘share’, ‘re-tweet’ and post information including their experiences all the time. These activities should not automatically be treated as testimonials.
On the Crickey Health Blog surgeon Dr Jill Tomlinson published an excellent open letter to the Medical Board of Australia, expressing her concerns about the new guidelines. In her response Dr Joanna Flynn, chair of the Medical Board of Australia, said about the total ban on testimonials:
Whether it is still appropriate in the 21st century, when there are a whole series of conversations taking place online, with different levels of control over who says what about who, is another question altogether. If there is appetite for change, this debate should be channeled into the forthcoming three year review of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme, which we expect will include opportunities for feedback about aspects of the Law (…)
AHPRA has followed the letter of the law and does not make a distinction between different kinds of online patient feedback.
Sharing a positive experience via social media is not always a testimonial. The national law should only forbid false or misleading statements – not ban all of them. Yes, this is complex and challenging for the AHPRA watchdog, but it’s fair dinkum and will preserve the countless benefits of social media in health care.