Study: Real patient woes are behind inflammatory anti-doctor hashtag


Not every patient is going to be satisfied with their trip to the doctor. But a new study published by JMIR found some especially strong feelings in a wave of tweets from 2018 with the hashtag #DoctorsAreDickheads. Researchers investigated the tweets and found the hashtag was used in roughly 40,000 tweets, more than half of which were from patients sharing negative medical experiences. 

“People publicly disclose personal and often troubling health care experiences on Twitter,” researchers of the study wrote. “This adds new accountability for the patient-provider interaction, highlights how harmful communication affects diagnostic safety, and shapes the public’s viewpoint of how clinicians behave. Hashtags such as this offer valuable opportunities to learn from patient experiences. Recommendations include developing best practices for providers to improve communication, supporting patients through challenging diagnoses, and promoting patient engagement.”


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Researchers found that in their sample of 491 tweets using the hashtag, 50.5% were written by patients or patient advocates, 9.6% were from other healthcare professionals, 4.3% from caregivers, 1% from the media and 31.6% were from non-healthcare professionals. 

The three main themes that researchers found in common between the tweets were a “disbelief in patients’ experience and knowledge that contributes to medical errors and harm, the power inequity between patients and providers, and metacommentary on the meaning and impact of the #DoctorsAreDickheads hashtag.”

Just over 60% of the tweets in the sample group listed a medical condition, with the most common being chronic pain. Other popular conditions were related to mental health, musculoskeletal and obstetrical or gynecological conditions. 

“Patients and caregivers described a common experience of clinicians not listening, not believing, minimizing, or not valuing their accounts of illness,” authors of the study wrote. “The experience of being disbelieved was often linked to experiencing an incorrect, delayed, or missed diagnosis.”


Researchers used social media analytics company Symplur to review all of the tweets with the hashtag within a set timeframe. The study analyzed a random sample of tweets accounting for roughly 5.567% (500) of the tweets for a qualitative analysis. Researchers then further reviewed 100 tweets to ascertain the tweeters’ role in the healthcare ecosystem and other elements of the tweet. 


Twitter has become a place where medical professionals and patients alike share information. In fact, according to the study 22% of Americans use Twitter. In the past we’ve seen the platform be used by medical professionals to help boost factual information during the coronavirus pandemic, callout issues, such as sexism, within the industry and share new research. 

Authors of this study say these results can give providers a new way to view or use the platform. 

“Twitter may be an underutilized resource for understanding the patient’s perspective and provider dynamics within the diagnostic pathway, particularly for challenging-to-diagnose conditions; social media data can be mined to monitor care quality and patient experience,” authors wrote. 


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