Should doctors blog? What about that Oath?

Filed as News on May 31, 2007 3:32 pm

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I read an interesting article about doctors who are turning to blogging as a method of letting off steam and sharing some of their experiences with a wider audience.

According to Fard Johnmar, founder of Envision Solutions, the number of health care providers who are blogging is steadily growing.

Some doctor blogs are intended for the broader public. But many, especially those by anonymous writers, feature doctors venting — about patients, hospitals, insurers and malpractice lawyers — to each other. Others dissect health news or health policy debates, minus the usual stuffiness of medical journals.

Should they be blogging at all?

Though the doctors and other health care workers who blog say that they obscure the specific details of any case so as to anonymise it, I’m left feeling a little worried because — as we know too well — anonymity on the web is nigh impossible to achieve.

I remember listening to a British “TV doctor” talking about how he would swap stories with a colleague so as not to reveal confidential information about his own patients. Ahh yes, but they’re still patients.

Part of the Hippocratic Oath translates roughly as follows:

“All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.”

How does blogging sit with that?

Should doctors, and those in other professions where confidentiality is at a premium, be allowed to blog?

Not that there’s any way to stop them should they wish to, but are they breaking medical ethics by sharing details of their patients, however obfuscated the facts are?

Gossip and storytelling which once would’ve remained in a closed circle of professionals could now find its way leaking on to the Internet: personal information enshrined forever in a Google archive.

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  1. By Tony Hung posted on May 31, 2007 at 8:08 pm
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    I think talking about medical cases, facts, and opinions about, say research and so on is fine, and contributes something to the medical conversation in a way that bloggers and blogging can help with.

    On the other hand, writing about patients and griping about them is something I find extremely uncomfortable with, even if its done anonymously.

    I liken it to talking in an elevator — even if other patients don’t know who you’re talking about, just talking about someone else’s medical problems with editorial and opinion makes everyone feel uncomfortable.

    And I think it has to do with how it reflects on the profession — its unseemly, to be honest as we’re entrusted with all kinds of confidences. It doesn’t matter if you anonymize their identities — airing our your issues and gripes on a public forum, I think, are just inappropriate.

    But hey, that’s just my opinion. ;)

    Tony, ed. (and MD.)

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