1 in 4 physicians experience harassment on social media, study finds

Nearly one quarter of U.S. physicians report online attacks or harassment, according to the first known study to document physician experiences with online harassment. The research was published in JAMA Internal Medicine Jan. 4. 

Researchers from Chicago-based Northwestern University and the University of Chicago collaborated on the study, issuing a survey that respondents completed between Feb. 6 and March 20 of 2019. A total of 464 self-identified U.S. physicians completed the survey. Findings indicated 23.3 percent of respondents (108) reported personal attacks on social media. 

Women were significantly more likely than men to report online sexual harassment — 16.4 percent (44), compared to 1.5 percent (3), respectively.

Personal attacks were mainly related to online advocacy, such as backing vaccinations on social media. Work-related attacks were all related to patient care, while personal attacks not related to advocacy were based on race or religion. 

The study authors highlight that survey data was collected before the pandemic. 

"If anything, our data is likely an underestimate of the true extent of attacks and harassment post-pandemic since so many doctors started to advocate for public health measures during the pandemic and have been met with an increasingly polarized populace," said Vineet Arora, MD, senior and corresponding author. 

Since social media plays a role in collaboration among physicians, health systems should support them and institute plans that address online harassment, according to the study. 

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