Blogs written by medical professionals may pose a risk to patient privacy, according to an online study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Many also contain product endorsements and "unprofessional" comments about co-workers and patients.
This blog is not written by a medical professional.
The study's authors looked at 271 blogs written by doctors or nurses over the course of a year, and found that 16.6 per cent provided enough information to reveal the identity of the patients being discussed. Three even published photos of the patients. "When these authors discuss their interactions with individual patients, they compromise their patients’ privacy," the study found.
It can also come back to bite the doctor, according to the study:
For example, the anonymous blog author “Flea” revealed details of a patient’s death after a malpractice case was brought against him. The lawyer for the plaintiffs recognized the description of the case, and shortly thereafter, the case was settled out of court and the author removed his blog from the Internet.
Although most of the blogs attempted to be anonymous, more than half (56.8 per cent) provided enough information to identify the bloggers.
Many of the bloggers appear to use their online forums as a way to vent their frustrations about work, and in 17.7 per cent of the blogs to make critical comments about their patients:
“The unwritten definition of proper patient: attached to a breathing machine, a lot of wires and completely sedated or even paralyzed.” Adrenalin Rush
“She was a stupid, lazy, selfish woman all of which characteristics are personal problems, not medical issues or barriers to care” Panda Bear MD
“When you come into the ER yelling, moaning, and twisting in agony because you have a sprained ankle - I will hate you. Why will I hate you? I will hate you because the man in the next stretcher is dying of an excruciatingly painful form of cancer, yet he is silent.” ER RN
Colleagues, and the medical profession in general, are discussed on 50.6 per cent of the blogs. Forty per cent contained positive comments, and 30 per cent had negative comments complaining about poor management or lazy co-workers.
"Some blogs include unprofessional tone or content, such as negative comments about patients or the profession, violations of patient privacy, or promotion of special interests," the study found.
In fact, 11.4 per cent contained postings endorsing a health care product. An earlier study by another group found that 29 per cent of blog authors had been approached to endorse such products, and that 52 per cent of them had done so.
The authors also found many well written and respectful blogs that give them hope that such problems can be overcome. The study recommends that medical students get some training on their online behaviour, and that profession groups tackle the issue with guidelines.
"Medical blogs have the opportunity to be such a benefit to patients," one of the authors, Dr. Tara Lagu, an internal medicine specialist, told the Los Angeles Times.
"By revealing the struggles we have, they can really open patients' eyes to how to interact with doctors, they can connect patients and nurses who can be isolated from each other and they can be an important source of information for doctors as well as patients."