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Social media guidance — the need for detail

Ross 2

I’M passionate about pharmacy and so it matters to me that we have a strong professional leadership body and robust regulator. So, sometimes because of this vested interest, I feel compelled to comment on what they are doing and I’m not alone.

However, occasionally these comments can be perceived as taking cheap shots at these bodies (see Twitter) when in fact they are genuine concerns.

Take the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) for example, the recent guidance Demonstrating professionalism online, just doesn’t work for me. I downloaded it and seriously thought there had been an error, as I was looking for more pages that just don’t exist. I know it’s intended to help, and I know the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Top social media best practice tips for pharmacists is more expansive, but detail is still lacking.

Pharmacists have requested more details and the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has concerns that the lack of detail might stifle debate and lead to more “vexatious complaints”.

My suggestion is that if people are asking for further help then that shouldn’t be ignored. Some believe that the combination of RPS and GPhC guidance is sufficient — that’s great for them, but if seasoned professionals still have questions, then I imagine less experienced colleagues have many more.

Just looking at the figures from the GPhC annual report you’ll notice that complaints from other healthcare professionals about registrants (pharmacists and technicians) has increased by 362% compared to the previous year. You’ll also notice that 33% of complaints dealt with last year warranted no further action.

Perhaps the other benefit of further guidance (in addition to helping registrants avoid falling foul of standards) is that it might help stem the increasing flow of complaints to the GPhC which are completely groundless.

To clarify, I think that we need specific examples of what is allowed and what isn’t, with the caveat that this doesn’t cover all possible scenarios; information about social media complaints they receive (and how they were dealt with); and examples of inappropriate activity they see online. Quite simply, as Anthony Cox suggests, there needs to be a better understanding of the thresholds so that we can avoid breaching them.

Yes, social media does have a toxic element to it, and I’ve seen questionable activity from registrants, but it also has an incredible upside, and we need to nurture that without fear.

Further reading
There are some really interesting comments below this Pharmaceutical Journal article, and this blog from consultant in diabetes, Partha Kar is also a must read.

Ross Ferguson is a pharmacy & healthcare writer and member of the RPS Faculty. He is an ex-contractor, has experience as a locum and an employee pharmacist and has created a children’s medicines app, Kid-Dose

Follow Ross @rosshferguson

1 thought on “Social media guidance — the need for detail”

  1. Professor Lesley Diack

    The clue to what the GPhC has published is that it is guidance and not a law or a regulation. It is a framework for professional pharmacists and students to work within. It is not prohibitive and not extensive but sets some ground rules. However there are many abuses of social media not included. The lack of due diligence in quoting material in social media from others without checking references or sources, misquoting colleagues, misinterpreting comments and attributing information wrongly that still need to be addressed. While not perfect, guidance and tips raise awareness, encourage discussion and allow standards to increase. Social media, if well used, can be a marvellous tool and one that will increasingly be developed but needs to be established thoughtfully, with due diligence and respect for others.

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