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When your online personality meets your offline one — make sure they match

Johnathan Laird
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 eighteen months ago. Little did I know back then that my blog would attract any readers at all, never mind the massive number of hits it did. This new website Pharmacy in Practice is already doing significantly better. 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 13,000 people.

I would say the most positive impact 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 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 prescribing practice. The online community provides a way for me to achieve this while still allowing me to continue working in the wilds of Scotland.

I have encountered the dreaded trolls on Twitter, but they are exactly why the block or mute buttons exist. 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 of it. 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 are 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, I believe the nature of our society 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 independent prescriber with a special interest in asthma. He is based in Aberdeenshire

Follow Johnathan @JohnathanLaird



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