You Are Not Alone
The attacks and harassment of physicians online come at a time when they, together with other health care professionals, are “already facing unprecedented work-related stress and mental health challenges, which is being compounded by the online stress,” Dr Arora said.
Dr Arora encouraged physicians to “report the incident for your own safety to the service provider and the police,” although, “unfortunately, federal law here is very weak and defers to the states, which can be confusing.”
The authors emphasize the important role that institutions and employers can play. “Because social media plays a substantial role in clinical care, medical education, and research, employers and professional societies should support physicians facing online harassment and work to mitigate its incidence and impact.”
Beyond turning to institutions and professional societies, Dr Aurora and colleagues are recommending that physicians and other health care providers come together for mutual support. They are creating “a toolkit for physicians and health care workers who have been attacked or harassed.”
As part of this “toolkit,” Dr Arora founded a coalition of physicians and health care professionals in Illinois, called the Illinois Medical Professionals Action Collaborative Team (IMPACT4HC). The mission of the organization is “to engage grass-root networks, advocate for evidence-based solutions, advise influential stakeholders, and amplify solutions that protect the individuals and communities across the state and country.”
“I started IMPACT as a social media amplifier to help amplify the voices of Illinois health care workers during the pandemic and also increase the reach of our advocacy, both traditionally and on social media,” she said. “As individuals with social media presence, we can support each other through the attacks so that we are not alone. That has been key.”
She added that although there are “known downsides” for physicians who engage on social media, “it is also important to remember that our study looked specifically at the downsides, and there are many upsides too,” including networking and scholarly collaboration.
One limitation of the study is that the social media sampling “may not be representative of the physician workforce, because fewer minority racial/ethnic groups vs White physicians were included.”
The authors stated that future research should “focus on understanding and addressing online attacks and harassment for physicians, particularly Black and Hispanic/Latinx physicians who were underrepresented in our sample.”
Pendergrast TR, Jain S, Trueger NS, Gottlieb M, Woitowich NC, Arora VM. Prevalence of personal attacks and sexual harassment of physicians on social media. JAMA Intern Med. Published online January 4, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.7235.