Thursday, October 22, 2009

On keeping your blog professional

How careful are you about what details you include in your blog or updates on Facebook and Twitter? As more and more physicians join the online din of social media, they may find themselves treading on thin ice when it comes to privacy and professionalism.

Take this perhaps extreme example of a nursing student who was expelled for blogging. Guest blogger Michelle Fabio writes about it at Better Health and Kevin Pho posted about it today.

The student’s is a crazy story. She blogged about witnessing childbirth, and wrote some arguably unprofessional things about the experience (for starters, that the baby was “a wrinkly, bluish creature, all Picasso-like and weird, ugly as hell, covered in god knows what, screeching and waving its tentacles in the air.”). Without a hearing, she was expelled. She sued and a judge ordered her to be reinstated.

The judge determined she didn’t violate confidentiality, but clearly she crossed some professional boundaries here.

This story comes just as I am reporting on this very topic for an upcoming column about whether physicians are unwittingly violating patient confidentiality on their blogs and social media outlets.
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Medical students caught some flack recently about their online conduct after a survey found they were posting inappropriate material on Facebook and Twitter. Thirteen percent of it was found to violate patient confidentiality and 60 percent was considered unprofessional.

Some hospitals and schools and maybe practices are banning social media. That’s a bad idea. Simply cutting off online communications ignores the benefits of networking, marketing, innovating, and sharing ideas and experiences (a point well made by Paul Levy on his blog).

So what’s the solution? Perhaps a policy that outlines what is an isn’t appropriate (for the cases when common sense doesn’t prevail). The survey suggests these cases aren’t as extreme as one might think, so maybe some kind of written rules are in order.

I spoke with Better Health’s founder Dr. Val Jones yesterday, who told me in general doctors are so terrified about violating HIPAA that they usually ultra scrutinize their posts. (And her bloggers all follow the Healthcare Blogger Code of Ethics.) But she did caution that docs should use common sense, and remember that anything posted online is not private.

But, another point she made that I thought was particularly interesting, is that healthcare professionals should not shy away from blogging and engaging online. She said that doctors have “a moral obligation to get their voices heard online.” Indeed, the Internet rewards those who are loud more than those who are right. And doctors must get out there and combat misinformation. (Her main example was the misinformation propagated by Jenny McCarthy who claims vaccines are linked to autism. Where was the chorus of doctors setting the record straight online when this garbage spread?)

What do you think? Should online interaction be encouraged or banned? How can doctors make sure they are staying professional (and legal) when posting online – or is that even a problem, considering most are able to rely on common sense?

1 comment:

  1. I am interested in changing the quality of medicine that doctors practice via social media.

    I believe it to be a real, useful and necessary as our patient population becomes more savvy with Web 2.0.

    Doctors, as a whole, are too conservative. That's part of being a doctor. We are usually not swayed by the masses.

    Web 2.0 is different. While most of us can't embrace email, social media has the ability to enhance our own practices.

    Blogging can be dangerous, but blogging is not limited to expressing your views. There is a misunderstanding about blogging - it can be a useful, credible way to spread information about what and how you (doctors)practice.

    We do have a moral obligation - making sure the information on the internet becomes more credible, and truthful. Noone else can do this.

    My blog is filled with information about how I practice, and offers very little information that HIPAA could even care about.

    There is a lot of good to the internet, Web 2.0 and social media.

    We (doctors) need to keep up.