The Social Media Medic

Social media is a wonderful thing.  It truly is.  For me, as both a paramedic and an attorney, it has been a godsend.  I’ve made a lot of friends that I’d have never known otherwise.  And, especially for medicine, it’s exposed me to a lot of new topics that enable me to give the best possible care to my patients.  The discussions in both law and medicine (and the combination of the two at times) make me think and grow in both professions.

However, there’s an old adage that applies. Caveat Emptor.  That’s Latin for “Let the buyer beware.” Like I said, social media is often a good thing, especially in EMS. But while it gives everyone a voice, its downside is that it gives everyone a voice, including those that might not be the best to listen to.

There’s a category of people I call the “Social Media Medic.” They’re the first to jump into a discussion with absolute certainty and moral clarity as to how you should be practicing medicine and what kind of person you should be. They protect their brand by saying all the right things because, often, their brand is the only thing they have and that’s how you get to make it on the EMS conference circuit. The “Social Media Medic” is often full of buzzwords and hashtags about EMS and medicine.  They’re often posting studies and blogs that promote them and/or their agenda. Sometimes, some of these people don’t even understand the study that they’re sharing. On social media, these people say all the right things.  They have the right hashtags.  They have the message down.  They might even be right.  But we rarely have a way to confirm that the loudest voice is the most correct voice.  Heck, on more than one occasion, I’ve found that some of the loudest voices who are the most insistent that they are right about medicine are those who are virtually unemployable in their field, often because their social media personality is a reflection of their actual personality of being an insufferably arrogant buffoon.  In other words, what the Greeks used to call sophmoric, literally a “wise fool.”

I’ll admit that I’ve been active on social media.  Some might even say I’m too active. They might be right. The truth is that I’m far from God’s gift to EMS.  I make mistakes daily and I don’t get enough time to do as much medicine as I’d like to be truly proficient. After all, as Clint Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Hence, I rarely post about actual clinical issues in EMS.  It’s just not something I feel that I have the expertise or status to comment on with any authority. Now, legal issues, politics, volunteering, or professionalism are areas I feel qualified to comment on, so I do such.

In short, the loudest voice isn’t always the voice we need to be listening to.  And that especially rings true in EMS social media.

Why Doesn’t EMS Grow Up?

Social media is always full of EMS providers committing social media assisted career suicide (SMACS).  The latest was a perceived HIPAA violation where a medic was perceived to make fun of a cardiac arrest in a chicken coop, along with the associated chicken “byproducts.”  EMS Week always brings out the memes where the least bright and engaged of us in EMS demand to be thanked for our service, whether with free gifts or attention. We’re heroes, dangit. And EMS social media is always full of posts complaining about “misuse” and “abuse” of EMS and the emergency department of hospitals.

Of course, EMS and emergency department “misuse” and “abuse” are very subjective things. The general public doesn’t have the same definition of emergency that the average EMS provider has. Try to do the right thing and call your doctor after hours and you get a recording saying “If you’re having an emergency, hang up and call 911.” The problem is that no one defines emergency. Try to find after hours or unscheduled care for any sudden issue and you find that same or next day appointments are few and far between.  Urgent care hours often aren’t significantly better than many large clinics and that’s assuming that they even accept your insurance.  And if you do get in to see your doctor at their office, you can expect multiple follow-up visits for labs, imaging, and specialists for all but the most minor complaints.  Each of these are a separate absence from work and a separate insurance copay.  Is it any wonder that people go to a hospital emergency department where no appointment is needed and there’s virtually instant access to labs, imaging, and specialists.  As I like to say, the problem isn’t EMS or emergency department abuse, it’s that primary care has turned us into their after hours call coverage.

But that’s not the real point here.  The point here is that EMS seems to continue to remain in a teenager phase of not wanting to listen to the “adults” in the room who talk about educational standards and professionalism.  We continue to want to be “heroes” rather than caregivers and we demand attention and increased salaries while not doing anything to show why we deserve to be treated as a respected healthcare profession.  Why?

It’s simple.  The average career lifespan of an EMS provider, according to my quick Google search, is five years.  That’s right.  Five years.  It takes more than five years to be good at almost any career.  Like almost all of us, as a new EMT, then a new paramedic, I was full of all of the wrong answers.  I was full of dogma, misinformation, and the tendency to be way too eager about EMS. Fortunately, I was able to volunteer in some really first-rate EMS systems where I learned about medicine.  Also, the Internet and social media exposed me to some really smart people who actually cared about EMS and the medicine behind it.

However, the reality is this.  Many of the best and brightest in EMS leave for other careers in healthcare. And who can blame them? The opportunities in EMS pale in comparison to nursing, medicine, or as a PA, NP, or CRNA. With EMS’s short career half-life combined with our abysmal EMS education (Here, let me read the PowerPoints that the textbook publisher provides and I’ll throw in a war story on occasion.), we’ve created a revolving door of new providers who believe the dogma and misinformation.  They believe they’re going to be heroes and they’re disappointed when they’re providing geriatric primary care as opposed to “exciting and cool” trauma calls where they might “save a life.” (Spoiler alert:  Most of us in EMS don’t get the experience of being able to point to a specific life they’ve saved.  But if you do this right, you’ll get a lot of people to the right definitive medical care they needed to begin with.) And with our low barriers to entry, there’s little incentive to stick it out in EMS and make EMS great again. And while this revolving door continues, you continue to see EMS fail to progress and you see the same tired memes and complaints where we mock patients and our careers.  And when most are called to account for this behavior, they give the same tired excuses of how “you don’t know what it’s really like on the streets.”  Mind you, some of the worst offenders on EMS social media are virtually unemployable in EMS and don’t even work in an emergency setting.

To me, the heroes of EMS are the ones who’ve stuck it out; kept trying to improve EMS, even if it’s just their own EMS employer; and tried to teach good medicine to those coming in behind them.  If you actually took the time to take care of a sick person who’s septic and weak as opposed to bitching and moaning, you’re exactly who we need to stay in EMS.

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