Addressing Patient Behaviors on Social Media

Commenting about patient behaviors on Facebook is becoming a common practice among clinicians.
Commenting about patient behaviors on Facebook is becoming a common practice among clinicians.

Sometimes I think I should just stay away from Facebook physician assistant (PA) group pages. Something always bugs me. It's either the pre-PAs asking questions like “do PAs get to take blood pressure?” or the rude responses they get from licensed PAs. Worse is the patient-mocking that occasionally pops up.

A great example is a recent string of posts on a well-known PA group page, started by someone working in an emergency department (ED) who posted a picture of an empty set of beds in an ED.  

The caption noted that it must have been a nice day outside, which kept the “frequent flyers” from coming to the ED to seek refuge from the weather. I took great offense with this comment, and it reflects a common mindset of PAs and other providers who like to voice their annoyance with certain patient behaviors on Facebook.

It was followed by string of agreeing posts, some with relatively nasty comments about frequent flyers. It reminded me of my father, who spent a career working with students as a teacher, coach, and administrator. He too was annoyed by fellow teachers who sat in the teachers' lounge complaining about students and their parents, as though teachers exist for any other reason than to serve those constituents. My dad would strike a hilarious facial expression and say “you know, Jim, teaching would be a great job if I just didn't have to deal with all those darned students and their parents!” We'd always get a good laugh out of that.

But is there any reason PAs exist other than to serve our patients, be they frequent flyers or not? There wouldn't even be a PA profession if it weren't for patients. When I hear this kind of attitude from PAs, many of whom are making over 6 figures, I think of my dad's comment. Wouldn't being a PA be great if we didn't have to deal with all those patients?

Frequent flyer is such an insulting term. If patients show up frequently, it's for some legitimate reason. Maybe it's a mental health condition, lack of housing, addiction, loneliness, lack of a social support system, or a need for a service that is simply not available. They are still humans, and should be respected and not dismissed derisively on Facebook.

One thing is for sure. As sure as the sun rises every day, patients don't show up repeatedly at EDs with the hope of seeking out unwelcoming attitudes of PAs and other providers so easily found on Facebook.

Jim Anderson, MPAS, PA-C, DFAAPA, is a physician assistant in Seattle.

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