Saturday, December 20, 2008

Public Persona

There is a post over at Shrink Rap this week regarding an article in the Psychiatric Times, written by a psychiatry resident. The article got posted to several weblogs, and suddenly the author's email address ended up posted in the comments section. Now, you have an article that was written for an audience of psychiatrists, therapists, and other health care professionals. I really doubt that the author intended for this article to get posted to the internet for all the world to read.

The problem is, now this article is out there. The article featured the author's name and school affiliation. While I'm sure she changed some identifying characteristics, there's still a potentially recognizable patient in this article. As someone pointed out to me, if this patient felt the urge to Google his former therapist's name (which is not uncommon--who hasn't Googled themselves? Um, I mean, not me) then he'd find this article very easily. Chances are, this patient may identify himself in this article, especially since the therapist's name is attached. It's unclear from the article whether the patient gave his permission to have his story used in this manner, but given the tone of the article it seems unlikely.

How is this better than an anonymous blog with patient identification removed and characteristics changed?

Yet, some residencies will allow, even encourage their residents to publish in magazines and journals like Psychiatric Times, yet have policies forbidding residents to write blogs or post to message boards. I feel that policies regarding internet writing should be more reasonable and take into account the level of anonymity of the blog. It's one thing to post publicly "I'm a resident at XX school and my name is YY and I worked 95 hours last week and I think this affected my patient outcomes"--which seems to be what residency programs are afraid of, and what lawyers may look for in litigation. It's entirely another to post anonymously, take careful precautions with patient identification, and be deliberately vague.

One argument I could foresee regarding the difference in regulation is that an article in a journal or industry magazine is published with the intent to educate, whereas a blog post may be more for entertainment. I disagree, however--I rely on multiple blogs to help with my every day medical education. I know much more about recent Medicare legislation, new medical studies, and interactions between drug companies and medicine because of reading blogs than I do from my standard education. I receive 3-4 journals a week at my house, and I quickly get overwhelmed trying to read them all. Reading small amounts of blog posts daily, however, is much more feasible, and usually feature links to the actual articles so I can read them for myself.

Publishing case studies is a long-honored tradition in medicine. New diseases and therapies come to attention through case studies--reports of one or a few patients with a given syndrome or receiving a specific treatment. I do not have a problem with the article in Psych Times; in fact I found it enlightening. I simply feel that blog writing should be given the same consideration, given the crossover between internet publication and traditional academic journal.

1 comment:

Dragonfly said...

Very good point.