A Case of Abuse of Social Media

The last week saw a chastened-looking Mark Zuckerberg, testifying in the US Congress about data leaks from Facebook and explaining how he himself has been a victim of the same leaks. That may be cold comfort for most people and data leaks from social media behemoths are perhaps far bigger a problem than what ordinary folks face on social media on a daily basis.

Social media has been prone to abuse in multiple ways. While this piece cites a specific example that I came across last month, the wanton abuse of social media in spreading canards, abusing people in the vilest of terms, destroying reputations by twisting facts and sharing half-truths is quite worrying. Even more worrying is the lack of recourse that the aggrieved parties have in getting redress. While they can always present their side of the story, the abusers tend to ratchet up the diatribe and the language used is not something that perfectly decent folks can match. Thus, they give up.

Here is what happened last month.

A relative of a patient who died of liver failure at Max Hospital, New Delhi put up an extremely derogatory post abusing one of the doctors on the Liver Transplant team. The posts used the filthiest of language and dragged her extended family, including her long-deceased grandfather in a matter that was purely in the domain of the clinician’s work. The doctor, a lady with an impeccable track record of academics at the finest medical institutions in India and abroad was called horrible names, her competence questioned and her family’s name dragged through the mud.

The facts of the case as gleaned from the hospital records are quite straightforward. The patient had first been seen at Max Hospital, New Delhi in the last week of November 2017 when he had presented with symptoms quite clearly suggestive of liver cirrhosis. The patient was admitted to the hospital, investigations were conducted to confirm the provisional diagnosis and he was managed on medicines. He improved symptomatically and was discharged from the hospital 3 days later.

The patient again showed up at the hospital in early February 2018 and was advised admission. The patient’s family chose to disregard this advice and took the patient home. The patient was subsequently brought to the hospital in an emergency situation by the end of the month. He was admitted to the hospital ICU and was managed with medications. The patient’s family, however, decided to leave the hospital against the medical advice (LAMA).

The patient returned to the hospital the very next day. He was admitted and advised a Liver Transplant Surgery. The patient was managed and was provided all supportive therapy and the hospital waited for the patient’s family to take the decision on the liver transplant and arrange a suitable family member who can be the donor. The family once again discharged the patient LAMA and moved him to another hospital.

Incredibly, three days later the patient once again arrived in an emergency situation. The patient had deteriorated significantly. He was admitted to the hospital, needing an urgent liver transplant. The family now consented to the transplant. His wife agreed to be the donor and she was worked up for the surgery. Unfortunately, she was not found fit to donate and the patient in the meanwhile kept deteriorating. Sadly, the patient passed away without receiving the transplant. These are facts recorded in the EMR’s of the hospital.

While going through the hospital records, it was quite evident that the patient hardly followed the medical advice provided to them, they remained undecided about the transplant, till it was too late.

To blame a particular doctor in the transplant team for their travails is clearly unfair. The doctor advised them well, did her duty even when the family kept vacillating. To abuse her in the vilest of terms on a social media platform and to declare a ”war” against her and the hospital, vilify her family, which had nothing to do with any of this was most unfortunate.

The clinician chose not to respond to this calumny and decided to sue them for defamation. Taking on such elements on social media itself would clearly have been futile.

In an environment, where there exists a huge trust deficit between doctors and patients is there anything else that she could have done???

The views expressed are personal