Study: Medical bloggers risk patient privacy breaches

A new study suggests that medical blogs could potentially pose risks to patient confidentiality, and suggests that the medical profession should help medical professionals and readers address these issues. The study, which was funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, looked at how often blog authors use their platform to comment about patients, violate patient privacy or engage in other unprofessional behavior.  

Some typical medblogs written by physicians include Fat Doctor, Kevin MD, The Carlat Psychiatry Blog and Doctor Anonymous. Their content ranges from short entries to long rants, personal musings to political broadsides. 

Of the 271 medblogs studied by the researchers, 31 promoted healthcare products. The researchers also noted that when medical bloggers are approached by PR professionals, 52 percent endorse products on their blogs. More troubling, individual patients were described in 114 of the blogs reviewed by the researchers, and 45 of them included enough information for patients to identify their doctors--or worse, themselves.

To address blog content issues--notably patient privacy--the study's authors are recommending that professional groups develop standards for blog tone and content. However, I'd guess that it will be very hard to change the culture of the vibrant medical blogging community from the outside; perhaps such standards should come from them?

To learn more about the study:
- read this Modern Healthcare piece

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