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Salt Lake doctor's tweet sparks ethical controversy

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah physician's comment about a patient on social media has a nationwide audience "atwitter."

The patient was not identified in the doctor's tweet, but there are sharp differences of opinion about whether the post, which referred to a woman's weight, was appropriate.

"A 5'2" woman weighing 254 pounds today told me she eats 'hardly anything'. I guess that might be true if 'anything' means the whole cow." -Dr. Shelley Binkley, via Twitter

Dr. Shelley Binkley's Twitter page, "healthewoman," has more than 5,100 followers, and she's been identified as one of "50 doctors to follow on Twitter." Binkley says she has a passion for her profession: using Twitter as a tool to reach people.

Recently, Binkley posted this comment: "A 5'2" woman weighing 254 pounds today told me she eats 'hardly anything'. I guess that might be true if 'anything' means the whole cow."

Tuesday, the OB-GYN told KSL News she was attempting to use humor in illustrating the dangers of obesity, especially for pregnant women.

"In pregnancy, it's the problem of their fetus," Binkley said, "and the fetus has no control over what the mother's eating."

But the post sparked angry responses from some of her 5,000 followers.

Facebook User Comment
"I think it's funny and anyone who thinks it's offensive is probably as guilty as the patient." -Ashley Allred
Comment on Facebook

"Wow, that's possibly the most hateful and ignorant thing I've read in weeks," one follower replied.

"To tweet this as a care provider? Completely unethical," another follower wrote.

"If I was your (patient) I'd be looking for new doc," a third follower said.

Doctor Binkley posted back, revealing frustration some doctors sometimes have in getting patients to care about their own health. She wrote: "In the practice of medicine these days, I'm drowning in fat and denial. I can't fix either with my prescription pad or my knife."

"But how does insulting and mocking the patients help the situation?" another follower replied.

"I never meant to offend anybody, and I feel very sorry," Binkley told KSL.

The exchange illustrates how expectations differ online, for professionals and public officials on social media. In fact, the American Medical Association has guidelines which include:

  • Physicians must recognize online postings can reflect negatively affecting reputations and can undermine public trust.

"Be aware of what you're doing," says Dr. Glen Morrell, past president of the Utah Medical Association. "You're not sitting across the dinner table from somebody, discussing your opinions. So I would encourage all physicians to be very careful when they use the social media."

Binkley says this online dust-up has taught her to be careful with humor when she posts.

We should point out that none of the people who were offended by her post were her patients. In fact, KSL News couldn't find any tweets from Utah at all.


Richard Piatt


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