Is it OK for patients to chatter away about their doctors online, while those doctors remain under oath not to disclose patient information? And yet, some doctors do blog about interactions with their patients.
Last Friday, I was a guest on a Podcast hosted by Albert Maruggi, creator of the Social Media Throwdown series, on this topic. I was there to discuss the value of patients sharing their experiences online. The counterpoint was brought by Dr. Jeffrey Segal of a group called Medical Justice, which works to protect doctors from frivolous lawsuits.
Ah, the frivolous lawsuit! If it weren't for that, we wouldn't be having many of the discussions we are having today about who's allowed to talk about which aspects of health & medicine online. Medical and Pharma organizations are (rightfully) paranoid about getting sued in this litigation-happy country of ours.
And there's more to it than that. According to Dr. Segal, a number of these new doctor rating websites are being misused by by vengeful people to smear the reputations of good doctors. He says that patients posting anonymously, and people posing as patients — including disgruntled employees, competitors, and even ex-spouses — are publishing negative comments on doctors they wish to harm. Well, that just sucks. I don't know if this is really a phenomenon or just a few one-off cases, but it's a shame.
Essentially, you cannot stop people from talking about doctors online — just like everything else in life is now discussed in cyberspace.
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And I think there's an inherent value for people whose lives have been turned upside-down by an illness in sharing their experiences, which of course includes doctor interactions. Let's face it, in the old days, if you got ill, you were taken into a small private room with some "expert" who told you what medications you'd need, and how to live your life. You had no way of knowing if this doctor had a particular bent to his/her medical practices, or whether this person was up-to-date on the latest treatment options. Furthermore, you may have been unsure whether this person's demeanor with you was appropriate (where they condescending? scolding? or simply distracted?)
Being able to blog about what happens with our doctors is very therapuetic, and can also help us make better choices about which doctor to see.
But to be credible blogger/social media participant, you do have to exercise ethics. I personally love to hear about other people's endo appointments, but I don't need to know the doctor's actual name — especially if the post is negative.
I also believe that anonymous comments are crap. I even disregard reviews of fuzzy slippers on Zappos.com if the commenter didn't have the guts to post a name. You have to stand behind what you say, online or elsewhere.
On the other hand, I think blogging about experiences with doctors without actually naming the individual physician can be a good thing — because maybe that Dr. had a bad day, and there's no need to smear someone's professional reputation over a single wrong comment or mistake.
If I were asked to offer some simple rules for patient bloggers on discussing physicians, this is what I'd say:
* Don't use the doctor's real name (see above)
* Think about the lesson — why are you sharing this particular experience? Is there something in it that others can learn from?
* Don't be spiteful — even if it's a negative situation, try to explain rationally what went wrong, without railing at your doctor ('cause really, who does that help?)