Professionalism, Etiquette, and Manners in Health IT Social Media

Believe it or not, “professionalism” has a lot of definitions. If you are inside a profession, such as medicine or law, then you likely have a lengthy and specific set of guidelines, or instructions, about how to maintain your professionalism. If you are a member of the public, dealing with professionals, you have a shorter, more informal, sense of what it means for them to act professionally. And if you are a sociologist, you have yet another (set of internally debated) definitions.

I’ll start with my elective course in medical sociology during medical school. It was taught by Odin Anderson, who has been called the father of medical sociology. To the sociological eye, professions serve to self-police (maintain standards) and maximize economic position.

Many groups within society aspire to become professions. The medical and legal professions are considered the gold standards. Other groups, such as engineering and teaching, are partially professionalized. Most would agree that the social media “profession” has a long way to go before it becomes a true profession. Indeed, some would probably argue that social media work shouldn’t become too professional, as that might kill the goose that lays the golden egg, so to speak. An important element of social media is it’s impromptu and edgy nature. “Edginess” tends to disappear when rules and norms arrive. I suspect we’ll see a dynamic and evolving mix of the two extremes.

In contrast to the sociological view, medicine describes professionalism quite differently.

“The professionalism charter defined three fundamental principles of professionalism:

  • The primacy of patient welfare: This principle focuses on altruism, trust, and patient interest. The charter states: ‘Market forces, societal pressures, and administrative exigencies must not compromise this principle’.
  • Patient autonomy. This principle incorporates honesty with patients and the need to educate and empower patients to make appropriate medical decisions.
  • Social justice. This principle addresses physicians’ societal contract and distributive justice—that is, considering the available resources and the needs of all patients while taking care of an individual patient.”

By the way, the Jordan Cohen mentioned below was my advisor during medical school!

Then there are more general treatments of professionalism.

Due to all these difference senses of what it means to be a profession, to act professionally, and with professionalism, I actually prefer old-fashioned words, such as manners or etiquette.

From Ethics in Computing:

“Etiquette refers to a code of behavior, a set of norms of correct conduct expected by a society, group, or social class. It is a generally expected social behavior. These rules of the code or the set of norms are usually unwritten, but aspect of these relay reflect an underlying moral code. Manners are unenforced standards of conduct or cultural norms that show that an individual is “refined” and “cultured” with a society or group. These norms codify human behavior, manners, just like morality, have no formal system for punishing transgressions other than social disapproval.”

Many books about etiquette and protocol are, essentially, filled with workflows, such as exactly how to greet someone, take leave, and make introductions. These workflows arise and evolve over time. They are phenotypes reflect practical environmental constraints, human purposes and goals, and personal moral codes and organizational values (the corresponding genotypes).

Now, how does all of this apply to professionalism in social media?

I’m sure you can think of examples in the #HITsm, #HCLDR, #HIT100 and related healthcare social media communities during which generally accepted rules and norms were followed scrupulously. And you can also think of episodes when rules and norms were not followed, and then there were direct and indirect expressions of social disapproval. I suspect these rules and norms have evolved immensely from the early days of social media, and will continue to do so.

Today at noon @MandiBPro will lead a discussion of Professionalism in Social Media during our weekly #HITsm tweetchat. How can we define professionalism? What does it mean to be professional during engaging in social media? How do we deal with social media where different groups with potentially different systems of etiquette and manners are present at the same time? Have we ever witnessed bullying behavior on social media? How did we respond? Can we act “professionally” without turning into workflow-following automatons?

See you at the tweetchat!

@wareFLO On Periscope!


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