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Nearly One in Four Doctors Report Harassment on Social Media

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 20, 2021 -- Nearly one-quarter of physicians report being personally attacked on social media, according to a research letter published online Jan. 4 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Tricia R. Pendergrast, from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, and colleagues reported on a case series of physicians invited to describe their experiences of harassment on social media. A total of 464 participants who self-identified as physicians completed the survey.

The researchers found that 23.3 percent of the physicians reported being personally attacked on social media, with no significant difference reported between female and male physicians (24.2 versus 21.9 percent). Women were significantly more likely to report online sexual harassment than men (16.4 versus 1.5 percent). Overall, 42.6 percent of those reporting personal attacks reported open-ended responses. Personal attacks were categorized as advocacy, personal, work-related, and other. The advocacy comments were further categorized into vaccines, guns, abortion, smoking, and general. Physicians reported verbal abuse, death threats, contacting employers and certifying boards, and sharing of personally identifying information on public forums in these comments. Twelve of the 18 sexual harassment comments that were shared included receipt of sexually explicit messages, including pornographic images sent without consent.

"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," the authors write.

Two authors disclosed financial ties to the publishing and medical technology industries.

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