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Monday, February 27, 2012

Medical Blogging: Keeping It Ethical


(Shortened version of a talk given on February 9, 2012 on the occasion of the 45th Association of Philippine Medical Colleges National Convention held at the Cebu Institute of Medicine, Philippines)



Lost in the talk on Medical Professionalism is the online aspect of Medical Professionalism. In this day and age, we must be thinking also of how we conduct ourselves online like in our blogs.

A blog is a very powerful tool. What is cool about blogs is that we as the author or writer of the blog post can also be our own editor, photographer and publisher rolled into one. A blog encourages interaction, conversation and feedback through its comments section. It makes readers part of the conversation and makes them part of the content. It also encourages sharing and networking through the social networking or sharing buttons.

A blog can come in many types. There are microblogs like Twitter and Tumbler. But there are also blog types according to genres. A blog can be personal, can be dealing with sports, events, entertainment, etc. But it can also be a medical blog.

There is an increasing trend of Filipino medical doctors who are blogging. Perhaps, Filipino medical students too. But only few are actually medical blogging.

The uniqueness of medical blogs

A medical blog has medicine or health as the main topic. A medical blog is unique because patient confidentiality is a consideration even online. It has to be accurate especially that medical blogs are often quoted. Otherwise, the results can be bad for both reader and author.

There is so much at stake with medical blogging. The author’s reputation and the reader’s health and even life may be on the line.

Medical blogs are prone to abuse. Some may pose as medical bloggers even if they are not competent to be one. They may pretend to be imparting medical knowledge when in fact they are just making articles up revolving around a medical keyword which has a high value in the online advertisements.

Many medical bloggers are also blogging anonymously.

And medical blogging is something new in the Philippines even if Filipinos are very much into social media.

Considering the reasons given above, ethical blogging should be practiced all the more with medical blogging. 

Ethical blogging

To keep a medical blog ethical, a medical blogger must observe the following:
  • Bloggers must respect the patient and medical professional relationship. Care must be taken not to accidentally reveal a patient’s identity. In the discussions, extra caution must be observed so that a patient’s identity cannot be inferred.
In the United States, there is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that protect individual’s personal health information which medical bloggers must comply with. The same principles mentioned in this act should perhaps also apply in the Philippines.

Bloggers may not mention patients’ names in their blog and think they have already complied with privacy rules. But other information such as the date, time, hospital service or department the blogger serves, the place, and uniqueness of an injury or uniqueness of an event may still lead to the patient being easily identified.      
  • There must be clear representation of authority and perspective. The blogger even if he is blogging anonymously must reveal his credentials or qualifications and must show the readers where he is coming from in writing this article. An About Me page may do this.
  • It must be made clear whether the post is a paid one. Commercial ties must be made clear. Clearly differentiate between editorial content and advertising content.
  •  Information imparted must be reliable and sources must be given due credit just like in writing a research paper.
  • Practice courtesy. Do not use curse words. Do not engage in personal attacks.
  • Think, think, think before you post.
In conclusion, I would like to leave a quote from my favorite uncle….Uncle Ben Parker (of Spiderman) who said “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I would like to repeat that a blog is a powerful tool. It is even made more powerful when a physician does the medical blogging because of the trust and confidence that he usually gets from his readers especially patients. 

Therefore I say to the medical bloggers out there, keep it (blogging) ethical.

Good afternoon and thank you.



 

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