Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"I Am a Doctor Working in Palliative Care. Ask Me Anything."

The social news website Reddit advertises itself as the "Front Page of the Internet." The site might as well be called "Procrastination Grand Central" (based on my experience).

For those unfamiliar with the site, Reddit relies on a simple upvote/downvote system which brings popular stories/posts to the top of the page. Once you click on a post, you will notice many comments which are once again ordered based on popularity. One can also search the site based on keywords.

A lot of the stuff posted on the site is, well, junk... but there is enough good stuff to keep you occupied if you aren't not careful.
reddit sticker - 3 by Eva Blue, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licenseby  Eva B

One of the "subreddits" on the site is entitled "IAMA," which doubles for "I am a" and "ask me anything." Several posts strike me as notable. For instance, see "IAmA terminally ill man with ALS, AMA" or "IAMA 20 something that supports his two disabled/terminally ill parents about to deal with his 2nd eviction. AMA."

The "subreddit" has a verification system which doesn't seem to be applied to every post. Veracity issues aside, it's curious to watch public interactions among (mostly anonymous) people attempting to grapple with these issues.

Of note, an anonymous Australian palliative care physician recently posted an "IAMA" which turned out to be fairly popular. Many excellent questions were asked, such as:
Several people didn't ask questions but merely thanked the physician for his or her work.

This is yet another example of how social media can be used to educate the public, although it needs to be done carefully. For instance, the doctor was not transparent in the introduction about the fact that he or she is from Australia- this fact was buried in the comments in the thread of replies. While there are many commonalities in the practice of palliative care around the world, some practices are system-specific so one could see the potential for misunderstanding. The doctor does seem to mention this a few times when it may be relevant. And, as always, one should stay away from providing consultation regarding specific issues which may create a liability concern. (Consult your institution's social media policy if they have one.)

Furthermore, the physician's response to the last question listed above (when should I be looking at palliative care, if at all?) leaves much to be desired.  The response starts out appropriately: "I think the best person to determine when you should be considering palliative care would be your main treating physician" but then unravels very quickly when the physician suggests that being "minimally responsive" to treatment would prompt consideration of a palliative care referral.  We know by now that earlier palliative care consultation for this patient may be appropriate.  I'd be interested in the Australian perspective on the NEJM study to help us understand if system differences change the relevance of the study.

Predictably, the poster with Stage IV lung cancer responds to the physician's comments, "Thank you for your response! Knowing when to seek out palliative care certainly helps! I hate to say it, but I'm going to do my best to never have to meet you in a professional setting!"

I've written an additional response to the question.  If you have comments you wish to make, it takes about 10 seconds to sign up for an anonymous account (no email address required). 

See some other relevant "IAMA"s:
What do you think of this use of social media? Should the hospice palliative care community actively monitor sites like this for opportunities to educate?

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